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Moles, or nevi (singular: nevus), are the most common growths in humans. They can be present at birth or acquired throughout life. The incidence of nevi increases throughout childhood, peaks in adolescence, and typically wanes in older adulthood. Nevi evolve and change throughout childhood and during pregnancy.
Moles can appear anywhere on the skin in various sizes and shapes. They are made up of melanocytes, skin cells that produce melanin (dark pigment).
Moles typically evolve and grow as we do. They generally begin as flat brown spots, similar to a freckle, that, over time, may grow larger, become elevated, and grow hairs.
Certain types of moles carry a risk for developing malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Sunburns, particularly in childhood, can increase the risk.
Some moles are present at birth. Congenital nevi are seen on over 1 percent of newborns. They can be small, or they can cover most of the skin surface. Large nevi are at highest risk for malignant changes.
One relatively common mole is the dysplastic nevus. It is broader and larger than an ordinary mole and tends to be irregular in color and shape. People with dysplastic moles have a greater than average chance of developing melanoma.
While most changes in moles are not cancerous, it is important to consult a dermatologist with concerns about moles, especially if unusual changes in them can be observed. The dermatologist may recommend that a biopsy be taken. This involves removal of part or all of the mole for evaluation. Any mole or nevus that changes in size, shape, color or elevates, should be evaluated by Dr. Kolansky and may require a biopsy.
Common acquired nevi, or moles, are composed of nevus cells (melanocytes) grouped in collections within the first and/or second layers of the skin. They have a wide range of presentation and can occur on any surface of the skin or mucous membranes, including the nail beds.
There is a higher prevalence of nevi in people with light skin compared to those with dark skin. Common acquired nevi usually first appear between the ages of 6 to 12 months. They become more numerous in childhood and the teenage years, and tend to regress later in life.
Common acquired nevi vary in size, color, and shape. They are typically 3 to 5 millimeters in diameter and may be light or dark in color, and flat, raised, or polypoid in shape. Hair may be present on the mole. A pigmented nevus in the nail bed appears as a light to dark brown streak extending from the cuticle to the end of the nail. In some cases, the cuticle skin and the tip of the finger or toe can be pigmented as well.
Typically, common nevi have very clear lines of demarcation and their borders are obvious. Hair, when present, is usually dark and coarse. Typical acquired nevi have a minimal risk of becoming cancerous.