Moles are spots on the skin where pigmented cells have clustered together. They typically appear as light to dark brown spots on the skin that are either flat or raised. Most people have benign moles, which are harmless. Moles that become atypical are called dysplastic nevi. They may eventually become melanoma . Melanoma is a form of skin cancer.
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Moles develop from pigment-producing cells in the skin called melanocytes. Normally, these cells are evenly distributed in your skin. When you have a mole, these cells have formed a cluster.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of developing moles:
  • Moles that are present at birth increase the likelihood of more moles later in life
  • Family members with moles
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight, especially sunburn


Most people have some benign moles that appear at birth, childhood, or adolescence. Most adults have 10-40 moles.Benign moles, which can appear anywhere on the body, are usually:
  • Dark brown, but can also be yellow-brown or flesh tone
  • One color
  • Round or oval with distinct edges
  • Flat and smooth, but may occasionally become raised, rough, or grow hair
Signs that a mole may be atypical include:
  • Sudden change in size, color, shape, texture, or sensation
  • Large size—¼ inch or more across, about the size of an eraser at the end of a pencil
  • A mixture of colors, often including black
  • Irregular edges
  • Abnormal surface that is:
    • Scaling
    • Flaking
    • Oozing
    • Bleeding
    • Open with a sore that will not heal
    • Hard with a raised lump
  • Itchy, tender, or painful
  • Abnormally colored skin around it
Irregular Border on Mole
Skin Cancer Sign: Irregular Border on Mole
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

If you are concerned about a mole because it looks different from the others, or you are over age 30 and notice a new mole, call your doctor. Also, call your doctor if you notice any signs that an existing mole may be atypical.

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