A mole is a benign accumulation of pigment cells in the skin. It’s a normal condition. Almost everyone has multiple moles, on average about twenty-five. Apart from normal benign moles, there are also troubled moles and malignant moles (melanomas).
A mole is a usually innocent disorder in the development of the skin. Most pigment cells are uniformly distributed over the skin, but in some places, pigment cells are more close to each other. In those places, a mole emerges. A mole is occasionally already visibly present at birth: the so-called congenital mole. Most moles emerge between the third and twentieth year of life. After the fortieth year, the number of moles may decrease again.
The number of moles is determined by genetic factors and by the degree to which the skin has been exposed to sunlight during life. Especially (excessive) exposure to the sun in the first fifteen years of life matters in the development of moles.
Ordinary moles are visible as brown or black spots, usually flat but sometimes elevated and clearly round or irregular. They can be quite different from each other in size, shape or color. Typically, the shape and color are regular.
A troubled (dysplastic or atypical) mole is irregular in shape and color, which means that there are different shades of brown next to each other in the same mole. Often, there is also a reddish discoloration, usually in the edge.
A melanoma is usually larger than an ordinary mole, the shape is erratic and asymmetrical and the pigmentation is often irregular. Apart from brown and black, the colors red, purple, blue, gray, white or a combination of various colors may be found.
Based on the external signs, a doctor can make the diagnosis of a normal (benign) or troubled mole in many cases with certainty. A tool for this can be the dermatoscope. This is a device, similar to an otoscope or opthalmoscope, which can magnify the skin several tens of times. In cases of doubt and clearly suspected melanoma, microscopic examination will always be required to make the diagnosis. For microscopic examination, the mole or melanoma must be removed under local anesthesia.
A benign mole is a normal condition and no morbid or abnormal defect and therefore doesn’t need to be treated. Sometimes, a person wants to remove a mole from a cosmetic point of view. This can be done in different ways. The most widely used is cutting (excision) or burning (electrocoagulation). If there is even the slightest suspicion on a melanoma, the mole will be excised and microscopically examined.
An ordinary mole persists without treatment for life. Thanks to the attention that for many years has been spent in campaigns and in the media to the melanoma, this form of skin cancer is being detected in an increasingly earlier stage. People with suspicious symptoms go to the doctor sooner than they did before. As a result, the prospects of people with a melanoma have improved considerably over the last thirty years.
- Sunburns at young age slightly increase the risk of getting a melanoma. It’s highly recommended, especially in young children, to avoid excessive sun exposure. Also avoid the sunbed, because this increases the risk of melanoma.
- Moles that are gradually or suddenly going to change are suspected and should be checked. This also applies to newly emerged moles that look very different from the other moles on the skin. The changes to pay attention to are: getting bigger, changing totally or partially in color or color composition, changing shape (getting asymmetric or erratic), scabs, stabbing, itching and/or aching and bleeding. In many cases, these symptoms are based on harmless changes in the mole but, if more than two of the changes above occur, it’s always advisable to consult the doctor or dermatologist, to see if there is no malignant condition.