What constitutes a mole?

Most people have numerous moles. They appear in childhood and early teenage years. An overgrowth of melanocytes (skin’s pigmented cells) form a mole.

What is the appearance of a mole?

Most moles are flat, relatively even in color and regular in shape. The color ranges from medium brown to dark brown to black. A mole is flesh colored and dome shaped and soft to touch. Moles are different to freckles on the faces of red heads or fair skinned children, and are also different to freckles that appear on the shoulders after sunburn. If there are any questions regarding the appearance of a mole, seek professional evaluation.

Where do moles come from?

Both genetic factors and sun exposure determine the number of moles that develop. The strongest influence of sunlight is in early childhood and teenage years. Puberty and other hormonal factors have not shown any evidence of playing a role in causing new moles.

What number of moles should concern me?

The more moles a person has, the higher the risk of melanoma. If you are concerned about the appearance of a mole, seek professional evaluation.

Dysplastic Moles 01What are Dysplastic Moles?

A Dysplastic mole is one that has atypical architecture features (the physical alignment of mole cells in the skin) and/or atypical cytologic features within melanocytes (the appearance of the mole cells individually).

Dysplastic moles have the potential to evolve into melanoma. Individuals with a history of dysplastic nevi should be checked on a regular basis to prevent melanoma from occurring. Since melanomas can arise from newly acquired moles or dysplastic moles, it is important to undergo regular skin exams.

Dysplastic Moles 02What do Dysplastic Moles look like?

If you have any questions regarding the appearance of your moles, you should discuss these with a doctor. See “ABCD rule” under melanoma.

What is a Melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer arising from melanocytes (pigment producing cells). If a melanoma is not removed at an early stage it has the potential to spread via lymphatics and blood vessels to other parts of the body and become life threatening.

Fortunately, these begin on the surface of the skin, allowing us to detect their growth early, if proper skin surveillance is performed. Melanoma in the United States accounts for 3% of skin cancer cases but causes more than 75% of skin cancer deaths according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

What do Melanomas look like?

Melanomas distinguish themselves from moles by changing in size, shape and color over a period of months. Unlike more immediate changes caused by inflammation and or irritation from trauma that will resolve after a short period of time (1-2 weeks), these changes persist.

Normal moles usually resemble each other. A different looking mole should be examined by a physician. Don’t wait until your mole starts to be raised or bleeds before you seek medical attention.

The following is the ABCD Rule for melanoma detection:

Asymmetry 02Asymmetry

If you place a line down the middle one half should resemble the other half.

Irregular BorderIrregular Border

The outer border of the mole should be round and smooth. There should not be any notches or haziness (blurriness) to the border.

Irregular Color 01Irregular Color

There should be a uniform brown color throughout. If there is more than one color throughout or an intensely dark color, this should be evaluated.


A mole 6mm or larger. Melanomas are typically larger than 6mm in diameter but can be smaller.


Learn how to perform self skin exams for melanoma and other skin cancers from your physician. If a mole comes into question regarding its appearance, it should be removed and sent for pathologic examination.

Unusual Presentations

Some melanomas are “masqueraders” and do not exhibit typical features that are listed above. Some melanomas are raised from the start, or appear as reddish patches or “blood blisters” and are smaller than 6 mm in size.

Scalp, palms, soles, under finger and toe nails, all being non-sun exposed areas, can also be melanoma sites. These unusual melanomas are generally changing.

Main Risk Factors for the development of Melanoma

  1. Number of moles
  2. Presence of Dysplastic moles
  3. Personal or Family history of moles
  4. Previous severe sunburns
  5. Fair Complexion
  6. Immunosuppression
  7. Overall amount of Ultraviolet irradiation

If you are concerned about any unusual moles, contact the Total Skin Center located in the Kansas City area today.