Dr Josh Berkowitz, Medical Director at Wimpole Aesthetics explains everything we need to know about moles, how to spot changes early, when to seek medical advice and how to get moles removed.
What Are Moles?
Moles are common growths of skin that can appear anywhere on the body. Some people have no moles, or a couple, whilst other people can have dozens. If one of your parents has moles, you’re likely to have them too as there is a strong genetic link.
Moles can appear in varying shapes, sizes and colours anywhere on the skin. They also range from flesh-coloured bumps to dark marks.
Moles are caused by melanocyte skin cells which produce melanin, the pigment responsible for giving skin its colour. When melanocytes grow in clusters rather than being evenly distributed throughout the skin, moles are formed.
Are Moles Harmful?
Moles are generally nothing to be concerned about unless they change in size, shape or colour. In this case, it’s imperative you seek advice from your medical practitioner. Regularly checking your moles and looking for signs of change is the best thing you can do, in addition to regular mole checks by a doctor.
Inspecting Moles with the ABCDE Rule
When inspecting your moles, you should follow the ABCDE rule to look for signs of melanoma:
- A – Asymmetry: Where one half of the mole does not match the other.
- B – Border: Look for a ragged or irregular border. Check that the pigment has not spread into the surrounding skin.
- C – Colour: Ensure the colour is even. Different colours present in the same mole (such as shades of brown, black and tan or patches of white, grey, red, pink or blue) are signs to look for as Melanomas (cancerous moles) tend to be 2 or more colours.
- D – Diameter: Has your mole increased in size? Melanomas are normally at a minimum of 6mm in diameter. If you are concerned, take measurements so you can compare them to be sure there has been a change in size.
- E – Evolving: Does the mole stand out from the other moles or is it changing in size, colour or shape?
Should Moles Be Removed?
Generally, moles don’t need to be removed unless your doctor is concerned that they look suspicious. Some people may opt to have moles removed for aesthetic reasons if it is catching on clothes, hair or jewellery. Some people may have anxieties surrounding the appearance of their mole(s) – it is always important to follow your intuition. If removing the moles will give you peace of mind, then remove the worry.
How Do I Find Out If a Mole Is Cancerous?
Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK according to the NHS, with incidence rates predicted to increase. It is imperative that we are vigilant about having our moles checked and spotting the early signs of skin cancer.
The first step is to visit a doctor for a mole check. They will thoroughly inspect your moles and will examine any suspicious-looking moles with a dermatology microscope.
Any suspicious moles will be removed for histological diagnosis, to confirm whether it is benign, precancerous or malignant.
If the mole is cancerous, the doctor will make a wide local excision to remove any cancerous cells that may have been left around the melanoma after the initial removal to reduce the chances of it coming back.
Risks of Removing Moles at Home
Removing moles at home is dangerous and ill-advised. The most prominent risk associated with removing a mole at home is that you don’t know what you are dealing with. If the mole is malignant and you cut into these cancerous cells, there is a huge danger that these will spread, increasing the risk of cancer growing.
Infection is another risk of so-called “DIY home mole removal” – skin needs to be properly prepared, and the right tools need to be used. Infection can delay healing and may cause more prominent scarring.
The biggest danger linked to these kinds of cuts is that the infection becomes sceptic. This means that the infection has entered the bloodstream. If left untreated, sepsis can cause organ failure which is fatal.
How Do Professionals Remove Moles?
There are various techniques for mole removal, which may depend on the type of mole, the location (e.g., being mindful of visible scarring) as well as the doctor’s preference:
- Excision – this is a common technique whereby the doctor uses a scalpel to remove the mole. A small margin of surrounding skin is normally removed to ensure any atypical cells are also removed.
- Shave Removal – another popular technique is one that shaves the mole – however, this isn’t recommended for deep tumours as there is a higher risk that moles will return after a shave removal.
- Laser Removal – laser mole removal uses light radiation to break down the skin cells of a non-cancerous mole. This is painless and may achieve better results with reduced scarring, but it is not recommended for suspected skin cancer. A few sessions may be required with laser mole removal.
- Freezing (cryotherapy) – uses liquid nitrogen to remove moles that are non-malignant or benign.
When to See a Doctor About Your Mole
It is advisable to seek medical advice if you have any concerns at all about your moles, particularly if there is any family history of melanoma. The sooner a suspicious mole is removed, the better.
If any of your moles fit the ABCDE rule, or if you have any of the below symptoms, you should seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity:
- A new skin lesion appearing
- Any changes to the appearance of the mole
- Itching, bleeding or crustiness
- Inflamed, sore or painful moles
Finally, refrain from cutting off a mole yourself. This MUST BE DONE BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.
At Wimpole Aesthetics, our expert team is proud to deliver mole analysis and removal, delivering a bespoke experience to ensure the highest standards are upheld and the very best results.
If you are worried about a mole or recent changes, book a consultation with us.