Myths and Facts about Moles

Almost all of us have at least a few moles on our skin. But because most people know that skin cancer can develop in moles, many of our patients at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta are nervous about them. We’re constantly answering questions about moles, and this has given us an interesting look into the many myths patients hear about moles. That’s why, today, we’re dispelling seven of the most widespread myths about moles.

What Factors Increase My Risk of Skin CancerMyth #1: If you remove a mole, it will just grow back.

If a mole is excised completely (cut out with stitches), then it should not come back. If the top of a mole was shaved off then it is less likely to regrow but may (but could be re-shaved if desired). In fact, if you do have a mole that is growing or changing after being completely or partially removed, schedule a dermatology appointment as soon as possible because this can be a sign of skin cancer.

Myth #2: You can tell that a mole is cancerous if it grows.

It’s true that a growing mole can be a sign of skin cancer, but it’s important to know that this isn’t the only sign. We recommend that patients look for the ABCDEs that can signal melanoma in a mole:

  • A = asymmetry (a mole that isn’t consistent in color, size, and shape from top to bottom or left to right)
  • B = borders (a mole that is irregularly shaped, not circular nor oval)
  • C = color (a mole that is a different color than your other moles or has multiple colors within it)
  • D = diameter (a mole that is larger in diameter than the size of a pencil eraser and/or changes in size)
  • E = evolving (a mole that goes through any changes in color, size, or shape over time)

Myth #3: As a child grows, their moles grow too, so there’s no need to worry about changes in a child’s mole.

Moles do grow as kids do, so a growing mole isn’t as concerning in a child as it is in an adult. However, melanoma can occur at any age, so it’s important for any suspicious lesion to be evaluated by a dermatologist who knows how to detect the warning signs.

Myth #4: All skin cancers start as moles.

This is a common misconception. There are many types of skin cancer, and the type that tends to start in moles is called melanoma. However, only about 1/3 of melanomas originate within pre-existing moles. Although melanoma has the best name recognition because it’s usually the most aggressive, melanoma is actually the rarest of the three primary types of skin cancer. For this reason, schedule an appointment if you see any changes in your skin (whether it’s a mole or another type of skin spot). At your annual skin cancer screening, your dermatologist will be able to identify any suspicious areas.

Myth #5: Picking at a mole will make it larger or make it cancerous.

It’s never advisable to pick at a mole or try to remove it yourself, because this can cause a serious infection. However, it’s not true that this will cause the mole to get bigger or develop into a melanoma.

Myth #6: If a mole is in an area that isn’t exposed to the sun, it isn’t skin cancer.

Nearly everyone knows that sun exposure can cause skin cancer over time. However, skin cancer can develop even in skin that is never exposed to the sun. If you have a mole (or other spot) that shows signs of skin cancer, it’s important to have it evaluated by a dermatologist regardless of where it’s located.

Myth #7: If a mole has a hair, you know it isn’t cancerous.

This is a dangerous myth, because patients put off a skin cancer screening under the assumption that a mole with a hair can’t be cancerous. While melanoma tends to eventually make mole hairs fall out, this doesn’t happen until the cancer has advanced. With melanoma in particular, it’s crucial to diagnose and treat it early, so don’t wait until your mole loses a hair before you get it checked out.

Some people see their moles as a part of their unique beauty. Others see theirs as a burden. Regardless of how you feel about your moles, you should get into the habit of getting a skin cancer screening from an experienced dermatologist at least once per year, in addition to monthly self-exams at home. For more healthy skin care tips, follow Dermatology Associates of Atlanta on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.