Moles are common. Almost everyone has a few moles and individuals with light skin tend to have more averaging between 10 and 40.

Types of Cancerous Moles

Though most moles are no cause for concern, it is important to know that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer can develop on or near a mole. Research has shown that some types of moles have a higher than average risk of becoming cancerous. These include:

  • Congenital moles are moles a person has from birth. Large/giant congenital moles (larger than 20 centimeters) carry a higher risk of melanoma.
  • Atypical moles are generally larger than average, irregularly shaped and tend to have uneven color, often a mixture of tan, brown, red or pink. Atypical moles often run in families and increase the risk of melanoma.
  • Acquired moles appear after birth and a generally not problematic. However, having more than 50 to 100 acquired moles increases melanoma risks.

Anyone with these types of moles should see a dermatologist regularly, perform skin self-exams and practice good sun protection carefully.

Skin Self-Exams

Regularly examining your skin can help detect melanoma in the early stages when can be most effectively treated. When examining the skin, look at moles for the ABCDEs of melanoma detection:

  • A stands for Asymmetry, when one half of a mole is unlike the other half.
  • B stands for Border that is irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.
  • C stands for Color that varies from one area of the mole to another in shades of tan, pink, brown, black and sometimes white, red or blue.
  • D stands for Diameter larger than 6 mm, or the size of a pencil eraser
  • E stands for Evolving moles or skin lesions that look different from the rest or are changing in size, shape or color.

Learn more about detecting Melanoma.

When to Seek Treatment

If a mole displays any of the ABCDEs, is new, looks unusual or is in any way worrisome, make an appointment with your dermatologist immediately. While most moles are not melanoma, your dermatologist can either assure you that a mole is harmless or remove the mole for a biopsy to check for cancer, which is most successfully treated when detected at the earliest possible stage.


A mole may be removed when it becomes uncomfortable or a nuisance, when the patient finds it unattractive or when skin cancer is suspected.

Your dermatologist can safely remove a mole during an office visit using local anesthesia. Surgical incision is a commonly used procedure, which involves cutting out the entire mole and stitching the skin closed. Another option is using a surgical blade to shave away the mole. Never try to shave off a mole yourself. If skin cancer is present, it can remain and spread. Shaving it yourself can also result in infection and scarring.

If the mole is found to be cancerous, a follow-up appointment is necessary to create a treatment plan. If a mole grows back after removal, make another appointment with your dermatologist immediately as this is often a sign of melanoma.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. Reducing sun exposure is an easy way to reduce your risk. For details about how to you and your family can protect your skin, visit the Dermatology and Skin Surgery website pages, The Sun & Your Skin as well as Sun Protection for Children.

Routinely examining your own skin for any changes can help detect skin cancer early when it is most treatable. See your dermatologist if a mole begins to change or a new mole appears. An annual dermatologist examination is also recommended, especially for anyone with risk factors for skin cancer.