Moles, which usually look like small brown spots, are just groups of cells. The average adult has between 10 and 45 of them on their body. Most aren’t dangerous. Some go away as you get older. But how do you know if yours are normal? The best way is to look for specific features or changes that mean you should get a mole checked out.
What to Watch For
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Does the left side of the mole look like the right side, or does the top half look like the bottom half?
- Is the mole the same size it was when you first noticed it?
- Is the border well-defined, sharp, and uniform?
- Is the mole smaller than one-fourth of an inch? (Measure it at its widest spot.)
- Is the color mostly solid, and either tan, brown, or flesh-colored?
If you answered “yes” to every question, your mole is probably normal.
If you answered “no” to any of the questions, you should make an appointment with your doctor. They can tell you if your mole is a problem.
Check your moles once a month to make sure they look OK. This will make it easier to notice if they change. Look at yourself from head to toe, including between your fingers and toes, on your scalp or armpits, and under your nails. Use a mirror for any areas that are hard to see.
If you have a dark complexion, it’s common for your moles to be darker than those on people who are fair-skinned.
You may see another kind of growth on your skin that is red and looks like a mole. It’s called a cherry angioma.
Other Signs a Mole May Not Be Normal
Another difference: After you have surgery to remove a normal mole, it won’t grow back. But a cancerous one sometimes will.
What to Expect at Your Doctor’s Office
When you visit your doctor or a dermatologist, they’ll ask you several questions, including:
- Has anyone else in your family had abnormal moles or skin cancer?
- Have you noticed changes in the mole, such as its color or size?
- Have you had other moles removed? Were they abnormal or cancerous?
- Is your mole new, or have you always had it?
The doctor also will look at your mole closely and decide if it needs to be removed. If they remove part or all of it, they can send it to a lab for testing to find out if it’s cancer.
If the test, called a biopsy, shows cancer, your doctor will cut out all of the mole and the small area of skin around it to make sure they remove all the cancer. Then, they’ll stitch up the small wound on your skin.