Moles are small coloured spots on the skin made up of cells called melanocytes, which produce the colour (pigment) in your skin. Moles are often a brownish colour, although some may be darker or skin-coloured. They can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some have hair growing from them. Moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth edge.
Moles can change in number and appearance. Some fade away over time, often without you realising. They also sometimes respond to hormonal changes, for example during: pregnancy, teenage years,& older age . People with fair skin often have more moles than people with darker skin. You are more likely to develop lots of moles, or a certain type of mole, if they are common in your family. Most moles are completely harmless. However, they may be unsightly and affect your confidence. Moles can also be a nuisance, for example if they regularly catch on your clothing or you cut them while shaving. These moles can be surgically treated, although it can be expensive. You will usually have to pay for cosmetic mole treatment and it is often carried out at a private clinic. Ask your GP for advice about where to get treatment.
If you are having a mole removed because it is a nuisance, your surgeon may just shave the mole off so that it is level with your skin. This is known as a shave excision. The wound may then be closed with heat during a process called cauterisation. You should check your skin every few months for any new moles that develop (particularly after your teenage years, when new moles become less common) or any changes to existing moles. A mole can change in weeks or months.
Things to look for include, moles with uneven colouring – most moles only have one or two colours, but melanomas have lots of different shades, moles with an uneven or ragged edge – moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth border, any bleeding, itching, red, inflamed or crusty moles, or moles that get a lot bigger – most moles are no bigger than the width of a pencil. Moles like this can occur anywhere on your body, but most happen on the back, legs, arms and face. If you notice any changes to your moles or are worried about them, see your doctor. Changes to a mole may be an early indication of a type of skin cancer called melanoma.
While most moles are benign (non-cancerous), in rare cases they can develop into melanoma. Melanoma is a serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanomas usually appear as a dark, fast-growing spot where there was not one before, or a pre-existing mole that changes size, shape or colour and bleeds, itches or reddens.
The main treatment for melanoma is surgery, although your treatment will depend on your circumstances. If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage then surgery is usually successful, although you may need follow-up care to prevent melanoma recurring.
Preventing cancerous moles
If you have a lot of moles, it’s important to take extra care in the sun. Although it’s not always possible to prevent melanoma, avoiding overexposure to UV light can reduce your chances of developing it.
You can help protect yourself from sun damage if you, stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (between 11am and 3pm),cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF30) and reapply it regularly, particularly after swimming.
Laser Removal: Smaller moles can be removed with laser treatment, which uses light energy to break down the mole.
Shave Removal: Moles that protrude from the skin can simply be shaved away by a cosmetic surgeon under local anaesthetic. This is usually done using a scalpel, but is relatively straightforward and painless. A pink mark may be left, which will fade over time.