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Changes in Moles

Saurabha Palekar
Dark spots on the skin are known as moles. Most people have them on their skin. Some of them are also called beauty spots; for example, the mole on a woman's cheek. These are very common, but a change in the mole or an increase in their number may indicate susceptibility to melanoma. This story provides some information on the same.
A skin mole is an abnormal collection of pigment cells (known as melanocytes) which are present in the basal layer of the epidermis of the skin. This skin condition can develop anywhere on the skin and it can be of any shape and size. Sometimes, moles also sprout hair. Usually, they are brown in color but skin-colored moles are also observed in a few cases. Its brown color is caused by a natural body pigment known as melanin, which is produced by the special cells called melanocytes.
Melanin protects us from the harmful effects of the ultra violet rays of the sun. Moles which are present on the body from birth are known as congenital melanoma nevi. Some moles may disappear with age, whereas some remain throughout the life of an individual.
Moles change according to the changes in hormonal levels in women and may first appear, enlarge, or darken during pregnancy. Their presence does not cause any serious problem. However, when there are sudden changes in the shape, size, and color of the mole, it is advisable to get a biopsy done.
It is very difficult to check each and every mole present on the skin regularly. Some of them show signs like bleeding, itching, fluid oozing, inflammation, broken skin, or irritation. They need to be checked immediately by a dermatologist.
Moles, which are irregular in shape and larger than average (larger than a pencil eraser) are known as dysplastic nevi or atypical moles. They may have uneven color, with dark brown centers and sometimes reddish, uneven border or black dots at the edge. They are often hereditary.
People who have dysplastic nevi have more chances of developing malignant melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer and can be fatal. It develops as a dark and fast-growing spot which changes its shape, size, and color; and leads to reddening, itching, and bleeding.
Therefore, one should visit a dermatologist to check if there are any indications of skin cancer. If melanoma is treated at an early stage, it can be cured. People who have a family history of malignant melanoma should learn to do regular self-examination. Those who have more than 25 moles have a greater possibility of developing melanoma.
Exposure to sunlight causes a change in dysplastic nevi and increases its growth. Halo nevi is a kind of mole, which is commonly observed in children and young adults. It is surrounded by a white ring; the skin becomes white due to the loss of melanin.
There are a few other types of moles, like blue nevus, a deeply-rooted blue-colored mole, observed in West Indian infants; and juvenile melanoma (Spitz nevus), it similar to melanoma, a condition where the pigment cells form a benign tumor, which is pink-brown in color.
There are some ABCD parameters summarized by the American Cancer Society, to check whether a mole is suspicious. They are Asymmetry, Border, Color, and Diameter.
  • Asymmetry: Half of the mole does not match with the appearance of the other half.
  • Border: The border is either ragged, notched, or blurred, and uneven.
  • Color: The color is not uniform, different shades of color like red, white, black, blue, and brown are present.
  • Diameter: The diameter is greater than 1/4 inch, that is 6 mm.
Moles can be removed by excision surgery, electrosurgery, cauterization (which involves coagulation of blood and destroying the tissue with a hot iron or caustic agent or by freezing), or cryosurgery (a surgery done to destroy unwanted tissues using extreme cold, usually liquid nitrogen). However, all these methods are painful and require anesthesia. After the removal of dangerous moles, their growth can be prevented by avoiding exposure to excessive sunlight.
Disclaimer: This story is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.