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What is a mole?
Moles are collections of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) located in the upper layers of the skin. Moles are typically brown to tan in color and can be raised or flat. Most people have at least a few moles and some can have hundreds. Most moles appear in the first three decades of life. People with other family members who have lots of moles, and people who have had more exposure to the sun or tanning beds tend to get more moles.
What to look for in moles
In order to help patients when looking at their own moles, the melanoma ABCDE mnemonic is commonly used. The criteria to identify moles of concern are displayed in the graphic to the right.
Patients often come to our office worried that any new mole is melanoma. Fortunately, the vast majority of moles are completely benign and don’t need to be removed. During your visit, your medical provider will assess your moles based on criteria such as size, shape, color, and will ask you questions about the history of your moles (How long have they been there? Are they changing in appearance?, etc.)
If your provider is concerned about the possibility of melanoma, a biopsy is usually done to test if the spot is cancerous. A biopsy only takes a few minutes to perform and results are known in less than a week.