A mole is a cluster of skin cells -- usually brown or black -- that can appear anywhere on your body. They usually show up before age 20. Most are benign, meaning they’re not cancerous.
See your doctor if a mole appears later in your life, or if it starts to change size, color, or shape. If it has cancer cells, the doctor will want to remove it right away. Afterward, you’ll need to watch the area in case it grows back.
You can have a mole removed if you don’t like the way it looks or feels. It can be a good idea if it gets in your way, such as when you shave or dress.
How Do I Find Out if a Mole Is Cancerous?
First, your doctor will take a good look at the mole. If he thinks it’s not normal, he’ll either take a tissue sample or remove it completely. He might refer you to a dermatologist -- a skin specialist -- to do it.
Your doctor will send the sample to a lab to be looked at more closely. This is called a biopsy. If it comes back positive, meaning it is cancerous, the entire mole and area around it need to be removed to get rid of the dangerous cells.
How Is It Done?
Mole removal is a simple kind of surgery. Normally your doctor will do it in his office, clinic, or a hospital outpatient center. He’ll likely choose one of two ways:
- Surgical excision. Your doctor will numb the area. He’ll use a scalpel or a sharp, circular blade to cut out the mole and some healthy skin around it. He’ll stitch the skin closed.
- Surgical shave. This is done more often on smaller moles. After numbing the area, your doctor will use a small blade to shave off the mole and some tissue beneath it. Stitches aren’t usually needed.
Are There Any Risks?
It will leave a scar. The biggest risk after surgery is that the site can get infected. Carefully follow instructions to care for the wound until it heals. This means keeping it clean, moist, and covered.
Sometimes the area will bleed a little when you get home, especially if you take meds that thin your blood. Start by gently holding pressure on the area with a clean cloth or gauze for 20 minutes. If that doesn’t stop it, call your doctor.
A common mole won’t come back after it’s removed completely. A mole with cancer cells might. The cells can spread if not treated right away. Keep watch on the area and let your doctor know if you notice a change.
Removing a Skin Tag
This is a small flap of flesh-colored tissue that hangs off your skin by a thin stalk. You’re most likely to find one in an area where your skin rubs together, or in folds, like your armpits, neck, eyelids, under your breasts, or in your groin.
A skin tag is normally harmless and painless. You might want to have it removed if it gets in your way. Something rubbing against it can irritate it. It might snag on jewelry and clothing.
Sometimes people choose to have one removed because they don’t like the way it looks.
Your doctor will choose one of several ways to remove it during an office visit:
- Snipping. Your doctor will numb the area. He’ll cut off the tag with special scissors. This gets rid of the skin tag immediately.
- Freezing. Doctors call this “cryotherapy.” They use super-cold liquid nitrogen to remove the skin tag. It will fall off about 10-14 days after the treatment. The downside is this method can irritate the skin around the tag.
- Burning. An electrode sends an electric current into the skin growth. It dries out the tissue so the tag falls off.
After it’s removed, it usually won’t return. But another can appear somewhere else on your body.
Can I Remove It Myself?
Sometimes people try to cut skin tags off themselves or tie them off with fishing line. Don’t do this. It can cause bleeding and possible infection.
If you decide you want yours removed, or notice changes in it, make an appointment to see your doctor.