When Does Your Mole Require a Medical Evaluation?

Oct 11, 2022
When Does Your Mole Require a Medical Evaluation?
Most moles are harmless, but moles that change or appear unusual can raise concern. Learn when a mole requires a medical evaluation so you can catch melanoma skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable form.

Most newborns don’t have any moles, but people have a few (or even dozens) of these small, round pigmented spots by the time they reach adulthood. As the most common skin lesion, moles appear during childhood and tend to affect people with fairer skin tones. 

While most moles are completely harmless (benign), they can also change over time. In some cases, these changes are a sign of melanoma, one of the deadliest and fastest-growing forms of skin cancer.

Luckily, our skilled team of board-certified dermatologists at Florida Dermatology Associates can spot problematic moles and resolve their cancer risks through simple shave excision or Mohs micrographic surgery.

Here, we explore the differences between a normal and an atypical mole and explain how to address atypical moles.

Characteristics of a normal mole

Healthy moles have specific qualities and distinct appearances, but that doesn’t mean they all look the same. Even on your skin, you may see a range of normal moles varying in size, shape, and color.

A healthy mole may look like a flat, smooth spot with a crisp margin, while another may appear as a raised, rough spot with a poorly defined border. A healthy mole may also have a combination of characteristics: a flat mole can have irregular edges, just as a raised mole can be well-defined.

All healthy moles have five distinct characteristics:

  • Flat or only slightly raised
  • Round and symmetrical 
  • 5 mm in diameter or less 
  • A single, uniform color tone 
  • Unchanging appearance 

Normal moles are often brown or tan but can also be black, pink, blue, or skin-toned (colorless). They can emerge on any skin area, including your scalp, earlobe, between fingers or toes, or even beneath your nails. A mole may seem to “grow hair” when it appears over a hair follicle (often on arms or legs). 

No matter what it looks like, a healthy mole will either stay the same, change very slowly, or gradually fade over time. 

Attributes of an atypical mole

A conspicuous mole can be aesthetically displeasing, and a raised mole can be a source of irritation, but most common moles aren’t abnormal, bothersome, or cause for concern. 

When a normal mole changes

A normal mole becomes unhealthy and atypical if it changes rapidly, bleeds, or suddenly feels itchy, tender, or painful. A mole that appears quickly is also considered atypical. 

Know what your moles look like

Knowing what your moles look like and where they are is the first step in identifying worrisome changes, including new, fast-growing moles. This helps in seeking a prompt medical evaluation.

Atypical moles and melanoma

Atypical moles are a telltale sign of melanoma, a form of skin cancer that’s easy to treat early but often deadly if it progresses unchecked. It is critical to spot atypical moles so you can have it assessed by a professional to help safeguard your health and stop melanoma. 

ABCDEs of atypical mole evaluation 

Melanoma typically appears as a fast-changing mole or an unusual-looking mole. Because that can mean different things, dermatologists developed a standard set of criteria — called the ABCDEs of atypical moles — to help evaluate moles that appear irregular, including: 

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn’t mirror the other
  • Border: Uneven or poorly defined borders
  • Color: Appears to have more than one color or tone
  • Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser 
  • Evolution: Rapid changes in size, color, or shape

If you have a mole with any of these attributes, contact our team to have it evaluated right away.

Regular skin cancer screenings

Getting annual skin cancer screenings with our team is the best way to catch and remove cancerous moles early before they progress and spread. If we do find melanoma, we recommend more frequent skin checks. 

How to address atypical moles 

Moles that raise concern are removed (excised) and biopsied to check for cancer cells. We perform all mole excision procedures in-office using a local anesthetic. The type, location, and size determine the best treatment for atypical moles.

Simple shave excision

The simple shave mole excision method uses a thin blade to remove small, slightly raised atypical moles. The treatment area is either cauterized or closed with a sealing liquid. 

Mohs micrographic surgery

This advanced mole excision technique uses a surgical blade to remove atypical moles that are large, extend into deeper layers of skin, are fast-changing, or exist in cosmetic or functional areas of concern. It also meticulously removes thin margins of surrounding tissue, checking for cancer cells. The treatment area is typically closed with dissolving stitches. 

To learn more about mole evaluation and removal at Florida Dermatology Associates, call or schedule an appointment online today at one of our locations in Palm Bay, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, or Titusville, Florida.