Unfortunately, the rates of skin cancer cases are on the rise and many people are concerned about moles on their bodywith good reason, but they may not be informed about the various types of moles, what to look for, and which types of moles warrant concern.

Moles are benign skin lesions that are made up of melanocytes, cells that produce pigment and cause the skin to tan. Moles occur when skin cells grow in a cluster rather than being spread over the skin’s surface. Genetic make-up and sun exposure usually determine the quantity and appearance, but the average adult will have between 10 and 40 moles on their body. While most moles will appear before age 30, some can appear later, and sun exposure can increase the number; some moles will disappear with age. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin and are usually brown, pink, or tan in color. During puberty or pregnancy, existing moles may increase in size or become darker in color, or new moles may appear. Moles are sometimes located in inconvenient places, and many people worry that recurrent injury – physical trauma as caused by shaving, hair brushes, etc.) may result in a mole becoming cancerous. This is a common reason cited for patients having a mole removed, though irritation will not cause a mole to become malignant.

Spots or blemishes that warrant medical attention are those that do something out of the ordinary such as changing in size, shape, or color. Other signs to watch for include moles that itch, bleed, or cause pain. Certain types of moles, called dysplastic or atypical moles, tend to run in families, and this type of mole can indicate an increased risk of developing skin cancer. If an abnormal mole is found on the body, a doctor will either suggest removal, or a biopsy, where a section of the mole is extracted allowing a biopsy (examination under a microscope) to be performed.

For those with a greater-than-average number of moles on their body, fair skin, extensive exposure to sun, one or more serious/blistering sunburns in their past, red/fair hair, light-colored eyes, or a family history of the disease, skin cancer is a concern. Largely related to sun exposure, individuals to whom these factors apply have a greater tendency to burn in the sun, which, in turn, can induce cancer-causing cell damage. A melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, and forms when melanocytes develop mutations and grow out of control; it follows, therefore, that people with more moles are more at a greater risk of skin cancer. In fact, one study found that melanoma is almost 7 times more common in people with over 100 moles, compared to those with fewer than 15 moles. For individuals with a greater-than-average number of moles, it is recommended to visit a dermatologist on a regular basis.

The majority of moles, however, are benign (non-cancerous), and almost any mole – such as those you find unattractive or irritating – can be removed. Excision is a simple procedure that can usually be done during the same visit as your examination. To remove, a dermatologist will completely cut out the mole, including a small section of normal skin around it, then stitch the wound closed. Sometimes a mole will recur or grow back after it has been removed. If that should happen, simply return to your dermatologist for another treatment.

Insurance companies and Medicare have certain rules or conditions that must be met for a policy to cover the cost of the procedure, which is determined by the size, shape, and location of the mole. For more sensitive areas like the face, for instance, the procedure requires more delicacy and, therefore, will be more costly. Having the mole analyzed will incur additional cost.

In and of themselves, moles pose aren’t dangerous, but exposure to ultraviolet rays and family history increase the likelihood of skin cancer. As with any condition, early detection allows for the greatest rate of recovery and survival. The surest way to catch a skin condition early is to become familiar with the location and appearance of moles on the body through regular self-screening and dermatological examinations.

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Article Source: Center for Dermatology