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Monitoring Moles

Moles are small, pigmented (colored) marks on the skin. They have no known purpose. Most moles appear before age 30. Moles most often are benign (not cancer) and harmless. But some become cancerous. That’s why you need to watch the moles on your body.

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What Are Moles?

Moles are a type of pigmented mark. Freckles, which often are sprinkled across the bridge of the nose, are another type of pigmented mark. Moles can appear on any part of the body. There are many types, sizes, and shapes of moles. Most moles are solid brown. In most cases, they are flat or dome-shaped, smooth, and have well-defined edges.

Why Worry About Moles?

Most moles are benign and don’t require treatment. You can have moles removed if you don’t like the way they look or feel. But moles that appear after you are 30 or that change in certain ways may become a problem. These moles may turn into melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Melanoma is often curable if caught early. But this disease can be life-threatening. Anyone who has moles is at risk. To manage your risk, it’s smart to check your moles for changes. To do this, you first need to learn where your moles are. Then, be sure to check your moles each month.

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Checking Your Moles

It’s easy to check your moles each month.You can do this right after you shower and before you get dressed. Check your body from head to toe. Then, make a list of your moles. If you find any new moles or changes in your moles, call your doctor. To check your moles, you’ll need:

  • A full-length mirror

  • A stool or chair to sit on while you check your feet

If you have a lot of moles, take digital photos of them each month. Make sure to take photos both up close and from a distance. These can help you see if any moles change over time.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

See your doctor if your moles hurt, itch, ooze, bleed, thicken, become crusty, or show other changes. Also, be sure to call your doctor if your moles show any of the following signs of melanoma:

  • A change in size, shape, color, or elevation

  • Asymmetry (when the sides don’t match)

  • Ragged, notched, or blurred borders

  • Varied colors within the same mole

  • Size is larger than 6 mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser)

Online Medical Reviewer: Cho, Raymond J, MD, PhD
Online Medical Reviewer: Liao, Wilson, MD
Last Review Date: 10/13/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.