Moles are a common kind of skin growth. Almost everyone has at least a few of them, and some people have up to 40 moles.
Moles can form on any part of your body, including on your scalp, the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands. But often they appear on areas of your skin that have been exposed to the sun.
A mole looks like round spot on your skin. Usually moles are brown or black, but they can also be tan, red, pink, blue, or skin-toned. They may darken or lighten as you get older and during certain times of life — like during pregnancy.
Moles can be raised or flat. Raised moles can rub against your clothing and become irritated. This irritating can make them itch.
Most moles are normal, and they’re usually harmless. But sometimes they can turn cancerous. An itchy mole, along with other changes like crusting and bleeding, could be a sign of melanoma. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on any moles you find on your body, and report any changes to your dermatologist right away.
Moles form from cells called melanocytes. These are the pigment cells that give your skin its color. When the cells cluster together, they form a dark spot.
There are a few different types of moles:
- Common moles are the kind most people have.
- Atypical moles can turn into melanoma. These are the types of moles that crust, bleed, and itch.
Moles that you’re born with are called congenital moles. Moles that grow after birth are called acquired moles.
Moles usually first appear in childhood or adolescence. You can continue to get new moles until middle age, and then they may start to fade. Moles get darker when your skin is exposed to the sun. Sometimes they also darken during pregnancy.
Raised moles can rub against clothing and get irritated. This irritation can make them itch.
Moles can turn cancerous, especially if you have a lot of them. People with moles are at increased risk for melanoma.
Itching can also be a sign of melanoma. But itching alone doesn’t mean you have cancer. You need to look at other symptoms that come with the itch.
If your mole is raised, your clothing often rubs against it, and you have no other symptoms, the cause of your itching is probably just irritation.
Signs that your mole might be melanoma can be summarized by ABCDE.
- Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole are uneven.
- Border: The mole has irregular or ragged borders.
- Color: It’s two or more different colors.
- Diameter: It’s bigger than 1/4-inch across (about the size of a pencil eraser).
- Evolving/Elevating: The mole is changing size, shape, or color, or it’s becoming raised above the rest of the skin.
In addition to itching, look for these changes in the mole:
- crusting over
Most moles don’t need to be treated. If the mole itches enough to bother you, or if your dermatologist thinks it might be cancer, you can have it removed.
Dermatologists use one of two procedures to remove moles:
- Surgical excision: The dermatologist numbs your skin and then cuts out the whole mole. Your skin is typically closed with stitches.
- Surgical shave: Your dermatologist can do this procedure if your mole is small. After your skin is numbed, they use a small blade to remove the top part of the mole that is raised above the rest of your skin. You shouldn’t need stitches afterward.
Your dermatologist may do a biopsy. In this test, they remove a small sample of the mole or the whole mole and send it to a laboratory. There, a technician looks at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer. Your dermatologist will discuss the results of a biopsy with you.
Some moles stay with you for your entire life. Others fade once you reach middle age and beyond. Most moles are harmless and don’t need to be treated.
If you have melanoma, your outlook depends on the stage at which your cancer was diagnosed. Five-year survival rates for the earliest melanomas (stage 1) are around 92 to 97 percent. For a stage 4 melanoma that has spread (metastasis from the primary site) to other parts of your body, the five-year survival rate is 15 to 20 percent.
It’s important to be alert for any mole changes, including itching, and report them to your dermatologist right away. The earlier you get diagnosed with any type of skin cancer, the better your outlook will be.