Moles are very common, and most people have one or more. Moles are concentrations of pigment‒producing cells (melanocytes) in your skin. People with light skin tend to have more moles.
The technical name for a mole is nevus (plural: nevi). It comes from the Latin word for birthmark.
The cause of moles isn’t well understood. It’s thought to be an interaction of genetic factors and sun damage in most cases.
Moles usually emerge in childhood and adolescence and change in size and color as you grow. New moles commonly appear at times when your hormone levels change, such as during pregnancy.
Most moles are less than 1/4 inch in diameter. Mole color ranges from pink to dark brown or black. They can be anywhere on your body, alone or in groups.
Almost all moles are benign (noncancerous). But new moles in an adult are more likely to become cancerous than old moles.
If a new mole appears when you're older, or if a mole changes in appearance, you should see a dermatologist make sure it’s not cancerous.
Types of moles
There are many types of moles, categorized by when they appear, what they look like, and their risk of becoming cancerous.
These moles are called birthmarks and vary widely in size, shape, and color. About 0.2 to 2.1 percent of infants are born with a congenital mole.
Some birthmarks may be treated for cosmetic reasons when the child is older, for example, age 10 to 12 and better able to tolerate local anesthetic. Treatment options include:
Skin resurfacing ( dermabrasion )
Skin shaving (excision) of top skin layers
Chemical peel for lightening
Laser ablation for lightening
Larger congenital moles have a greater risk of becoming malignant in adulthood (4 to 6 percent lifetime risk). Changes in growth, color, shape, or pain of a birthmark should be evaluated by a doctor.
Acquired moles (also called common moles):
People with fair skin can normally have between 10 and 40 of these moles. Common moles are usually:
Round Or Oval
Flat or slightly raised or sometimes dome‒shaped
Smooth Or Rough
One color (tan, brown, black, red, pink, blue, or skin‒colored)
Small (1/4 inch or less; the size of a pencil eraser)
May have hairs
If you have darker skin or dark hair, your moles may be darker than those of people with fairer skin.
If you have more than 50 common moles, you’re at a higher risk for skin cancer. But it’s rare for a common mole to become cancerous.
Atypical moles (also called dysplastic nevi):
Atypical moles can appear anywhere on your body. Atypical moles are often on the trunk, but you can also get them on your neck, head, or scalp. They rarely appear on the face.
Benign atypical moles may have some of the same characteristics as melanoma (a type of skin cancer). So, it’s important to have regular skin checks and to monitor any changes in your moles.
Atypical moles have the potential to become cancerous. But it’s estimated that only 1 in 10,000 Trusted Source atypical moles turn into cancer.
Because of their appearance, atypical moles have been characterized as the “ugly ducklings” of moles.
In general, atypical moles are:
Irregular in shape with uneven borders
Varied in color: mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink
Pebbled in texture
Larger than a pencil eraser; 6 millimeters or more
More common in fair-skinned people
More common in people who have high sun exposure
You have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:
Four or more atypical moles.
A blood relative who had melanoma.
Previously had melanoma.
If members of your family have a lot of atypical moles, you may have familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndromeTrusted Source. Your risk of melanoma is 17.3 times higher than people who don't have FAMMM syndrome.
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