If you have moles, you’re in good company. These common overgrowths of skin cells are called melanocytes, and most people have at least a few, especially people who have fair skin.
Moles come in different sizes, shapes, and colors and may even have different textures. You might have been born with some moles, while others develop over time.
The good news is that most of the time, moles are nothing to worry about. But when problematic signs develop, you should see a provider as soon as possible.
To help you differentiate normal moles from troublesome moles, our board-certified dermatologists at Manhattan Dermatology created this guide.
When to see a doctor about a mole
Take a moment to learn three key signs that it’s time to see a dermatologist about your mole.
Your mole shows signs of skin cancer
The average adult has 10-40 moles on their skin, most of which are harmless. But if you develop a new mole or notice an existing mole has changed, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
When caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Knowing what to look for can help you get early treatment. Use the alphabet to remember the ABCDEs of problematic moles:
- A for asymmetry: One half doesn’t match the other
- B for border: Uneven, scalloped, or poorly defined (blurry) borders
- C for color: Looks like it has multiple colors, shades, or hues
- D for diameter: A mole bigger than the size of a pencil eraser
- E for evolving: The mole changes in size, color, or shape
Routine skin cancer screenings are the best way to catch and treat atypical moles.
Your mole breaks open or bleeds
If you have a mole that breaks open or bleeds, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you have skin cancer.
Raised or rough-textured moles can catch on your clothes and get irritated. This might cause the skin to break or the mole to bleed. Depending on the location and the severity of the tear, we may suggest removing the mole, even if it’s benign.
If you have a mole that breaks or bleeds without any obvious reasons or if you have a mole that resembles an open sore, it could be a sign of melanoma. Either way, set up an appointment sooner rather than later.
Your mole itches or is painful
Moles are part of your skin, and like all skin, a mole can react to different things, like new laundry detergents or soaps, chemicals in makeup or the environment, and even poorly placed clothing. This can sometimes cause a mole to feel sore or itch.
But a mole might become itchy or sore if cancerous cells irritate the sensitive nerve endings in the skin. If a mole suddenly gets itchy or sore but then gets better, it’s more likely that the sensation was caused by a trauma to the skin or a reaction to a chemical or rubbing.
When a mole stays itchy over time, though, it could be a sign of skin cancer. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are most associated with itching. Bottom line? If you’re worried about a mole that’s itchy or painful, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with us.
Treating problematic moles
To determine if a mole is cancerous or benign, we may remove a small portion or all of a mole for examination through a biopsy. Depending on the results of your biopsy, we create a personalized mole treatment plan.
If you need to have a cancerous or noncancerous mole removed, we can perform this surgical procedure in our office. First, we numb the treatment area, then carefully cut away the mole and extra skin layers surrounding it.
If your mole is cancerous, we may recommend Mohs micrographic surgery, since the cancerous cells may penetrate into the deep layers of skin and extend beyond the visible mole.
During this treatment, we remove the cancerous portions of your skin layer by precise layer. We then analyze the excised tissue in our on-site laboratory and remove additional layers as needed until no cancer remains.
This means you don’t have to wait and wonder if you’re cancer-free after treatment. Since we remove thin layers, you have less scarring than you would with traditional surgery. Plus, Mohs surgery has extremely high cure rates — 99% for new cancers and 94% for recurring cancers.
If you’re concerned about a mole, don’t wait to schedule an appointment online or over the phone at our office in the Murray Hill or Midtown East section of Manhattan in New York City.