Are Moles Benign?

Public awareness campaigns by major cancer-related organizations has led many more people to understand the link between skin cancer and moles. Cancer is a frightening disease, and many people know at least one person who has been affected by cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, and one particular type of cancer, melanoma, is related to moles, which almost everyone has. Melanoma is a particularly deadly form of skin cancer, responsible for seventy-five percent of skin cancer-related deaths. Knowing this can lead a person to be hypervigilant, watching for any changes in moles and rushing to a dermatologist at the first sign of new moles. However, the simple truth is that most moles are benign. Watching moles for changes is important in early detection of melanoma, but melanoma is a very rare type of skin cancer and the stress from hypervigilance, particularly for people who have a family history of cancer, can significantly impact one's quality of life. The National Cancer Institute has a fact sheet about moles that provides more information about risks associated with moles and melanoma.

Almost everyone has a few moles. Between ten and forty moles is generally considered a normal number of moles for a person to develop in the first twenty years of their life, although certain habits and normal hormonal changes throughout a person's life may cause existing moles to darken in color or cause new moles to appear. Moles that a person develops as a child tend to darken during the hormonal changes they experience during puberty. Some moles may fade away or simply fall off as a person ages. Moles are small lesions on the skin that form when cells called melanocytes cluster and overproduce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. The increased amount of melanin that these melanocytes produce cause the mole to be darker than the rest of the skin.

Most moles are flat and very small, with smooth texture and a rounded, regular edge. The only problems caused by most normal moles are cosmetic problems. Some cosmetic issues may arise when a mole appears in a visible area such as the face or neck, or if the mole begins to grow hair. A dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon can remove the mole or hairs that grow from it permanently. If a person has either cosmetic or medical concerns about a mole, seeking treatment for moles from a specialist is the best way to ensure they are permanently removed and to monitor for risk factors that could lead to mole-related skin cancer. Some aestheticians know of methods to remove moles, but these methods typically destroy the mole tissue and make it unavailable for lab analysis, so it is best to visit a dermatologist or skin cancer specialist to remove moles.

Cancerous moles are quite rare, but it is possible that in attempting to treat the mole at home without a doctor's supervision, a person can make their situation much worse by causing scarring or increasing their risk of cancer. Simply removing a mole may not remove the risk of cancer and can in fact increase the risk. Home remedies are only meant for use on small, flat moles. Improperly treating an elevated or irregular mole with home remedies can lead to the mole growing back, and if a particularly damaging method is used, it could lead to skin damage, which can cause scarring. If the mole is a cancerous one that is not properly removed and grows back, the scar tissue could conceal the new mole growth.

Preventing Moles

Although some moles can be cause for concern, it is best to refrain from trying to treat them yourself. Since most moles are only cosmetic concerns, many people who easily form moles want to know how to stop new ones from appearing. Mole removal tends to cause scarring and can be expensive, particularly if the mole in question is cosmetic, since most insurance companies will not cover the cost of cosmetic procedures.

Since a person's tendency to form new moles is hereditary, it is not always possible to prevent new moles from forming. However, there are some measures people can take to avoid forming new moles or to prevent existing moles from darkening. Many of the methods for preventing moles are the same as recommendations by cancer organizations for preventing skin cancer. People can form new moles through exposure to ultraviolet radiation, including the kind of UV radiation in tanning beds. Limiting exposure to UV radiation from natural sunlight and tanning beds can prevent moles.

Using sunscreen is recommended by cancer organizations and physicians. Sunscreen with a protection factor of at least fifteen can prevent much of the radiation from non-direct sunlight from promoting the formation of moles on the face and the rest of the body. When going in direct sunlight, a stronger protection factor is needed. Avoid direct sunlight entirely if it is possible to do so. Staying indoors or in shade when outdoors can limit your exposure to direct sunlight, as can avoiding outdoor activities during the peak hours of sunlight. Peak hours tend to last from ten o'clock in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon in most places.

Wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors can shield the face from direct sunlight exposure if no shade is available. Moles that form as a result of sun exposure are more likely to become cancerous than moles that form independent of sun exposure. There is some evidence that malignant melanoma is associated with severe sunburns that occur in childhood, so keeping children out of direct sunlight and using sunscreen with a high protection factor in childhood can help prevent both moles and skin cancer later in life.

Normal activities like being outdoors in the sunlight can cause moles, as can heredity and normal hormonal changes throughout a person's life. Moles are a normal part of human skin and are almost always nothing more than cosmetic concerns. Keeping cancer prevention in mind and monitoring mole formation and changes in existing moles is the best way to be proactive about minimizing one's risk of skin cancer.