Moles and other birthmarks are benign pigmented spots or patches of skin that range in color from tan, brown and black (moles) to red, pink or purple (vascular lesions, such as strawberry hemangiomas or port wine stains). The cause of mole development, both new and those discovered at birth, is not well understood, though pigmented spots usually emerge in childhood and adolescence, gradually changing in size and color as a person ages. New moles also commonly appear at times when hormone levels change, such as during pregnancy or menopause.
Almost all moles are benign, but those developed in adulthood are more likely to become cancerous. Additionally, though most birthmarks are harmless, some rare conditions may develop into cancer.
When to See a Doctor for Mole Treatment
Moles are the most common type of pigmented birthmark, and they can be flat or raised, any size, and any color. Birthmarks typically have little or no risk of becoming cancerous. However, if a patient notices one of these spots changing colors or size, they should see a doctor immediately.
In general, new moles are more likely to become cancerous; if a patient develops a new pigmented spot in adulthood, they should see a doctor. Many factors can lead to this new development, including sun exposure, increasing age, fair skin, hormonal changes, and responses to drugs that suppress the immune system. As a result, in can be difficult to know which skin moles to worry about.
Pigmented spots exhibiting any of the following warning signs should be examined by a professional immediately:
- Larger than six millimeters
- Itches, bleeds or oozes
- Rapidly changes in color, size or shape
- Asymmetrical, such as half raised and half flat
- Irregular borders
- Is located where it can’t be easily monitored, such as on the scalp
Patients with blood relatives who have had melanoma, as well as those with four or more atypical moles, should see a dermatologist every six months.
Most birthmarks, both red and pigmented, need no treatment, but monitoring can be helpful. Congenital melanocytic nevus, a rare, abnormally dark birthmark, will increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma by 5 to 10%, and port-wine stains near the eyes may indicated a higher risk of developing glaucoma. Typically, though, these pigmented marks do not themselves become cancerous.
What to Expect with Treatment for Moles
Depending on their depth, location and color, as well as the patient’s skin type, age and other factors, treatment for benign but unattractive birthmarks may take a form of laser or pulsed light therapy, microdermabrasion or surgical excision. If a mole is believed to be cancerous, the doctor will remove it or perform a biopsy to test for cancer cells. If you live in the St. Louis area, a consultation with one of our dermatologists can determine which procedure, if any, is the best form of treatment for your mole or birthmark. Remember that mole management and observation is the best way to stop cancer from developing, and only a dermatologist can provide that service.
*Results may vary per patient
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