What is a mole?
While “mole” is the commonly used name, medically a mole is called a melanocytic naevus or a pigmented naevus.
The words “melanocytic” and “pigmented” refer to the presence of melanin, which is the dark brown pigment found in the skin.
Moles often appear dark brown due to the higher levels of melanin, though they may be any colour from lighter skin tones to dark brown or black.
Moles may appear on any part of the body, though in adults they are more likely to appear in areas more often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck and arms.
How are they caused?
It is not known exactly what causes moles to develop, but we do know that several factors make them more likely:
- Skin types – they are more common in fair skinned people
- Sun exposure – skin with greater Sun exposure tends to have more moles
- Genetics – the tendency to have numerous moles runs in some families
- Immune status – new moles may be developed while undergoing certain treatments that suppress the immune system
Moles develop in people of all ages. Prominent moles developed in children tend to stay prominent throughout their lives. New moles most commonly appear in adults following Sun exposure.
Why are they treated?
As most moles are benign, they are usually removed for one of a number of common reasons:
- Pain or irritation from catching on clothing, particularly underwear
- Bleeding from catching during shaving
- Concerns about appearance
However, moles may be removed as a precaution if they have recently changed in appearance. Changes in size, colour or height suggest further investigation or removal may be required, as will the development of an asymmetrical shape or visible border.
A visual inspection by an experienced Dermatologist or Dermatology Nurse is carried out. Sometimes a dermatoscope is used to view the mole under magnification. The Doctor or Nurse will distinguish it from other common types of skin lesion such as cysts, seborrhoeic warts and lipoma. A history of recent changes in the mole will be taken.
Many benign moles are suitable for removal by laser. If a mole is suspected to be cancerous, or is otherwise not suitable for laser treatment, it may be possible to have it surgically excised.
More information on treatments is available at the pages below.