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How are moles related to skin cancer?

Moles (nevi) are normal growths of melanocytes (cells that give your skin color). Most moles are benign. Some moles may be "dysplastic" - these moles show an abnormal pattern under the microscope and vary in degree of atypical from mild to severe. Mildly dysplastic moles may be simply monitored. Severely dysplastic moles should be removed. Moles sometimes may turn into melanoma - a deadly form of skin cancer. It's estimated that about 20% of melanomas arise from prior moles. Therefore, everyone needs a check up  - full body skin check - once yearly to make sure all the "moles" are OK.

Moles or nevi are collections of pigment cells in the skin. They are not in themselves cancerous or pre-cancerous. Most moles are normal and never become skin cancer.

Having a lot of moles and having moles that are atypical (that is, they are Asymetric, have irregular Borders, have more than one Color, and have a Diameter > 6 mm) increases your risk for melanoma skin cancer. 

Melanoma skin cancer can develop from a previous mole or from a spot on the skin without any moles (spontaneously). 

Any mole that changes or violates any of the ABCDs as above, should be checked for skin cancer. Anyone who has many of these moles should have a regular screening check-up with a dermatologist to catch any melanoma skin cancers if they were to develop. 

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
The average person has 25 moles on their body - these are actually benign tumors. The more moles you have, the more likely you are to develop a type of skin cancer called melanoma. If your mole is larger than the eraser on a pencil, has more than one color, has rough borders, itches, or bleeds it should be removed. Plastic surgeons and dermatologists spend a lot of their lives removing moles, and each mole should be looked at under the microscope to make sure it's benign. Plastic surgeons will try to give you the best scar possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.