Skin moles on the face or body are extremely common. The average person can expect to have around 30 moles, but some people are naturally more prone and can have as many as 400.
A larger number of moles is linked to an increase in the risk of melanoma, a rare but virulent form of skin cancer. However, it only takes one melanoma so those with lower numbers of moles should be just as vigilant about any worrying signs or symptoms.
Cases of malignant melanoma are rising in the UK and skin cancer is the most common cancer in Britain with over 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma and over 13,000 malignant melanoma each year. It is a potentially fatal disease with over 2,000 deaths a year; but the good news is that if melanoma is caught in time, the lesion can be removed before it spreads, so chances of a successful outcome are high where early action is taken.
Having a regular mole check is important for two reasons. First, to identify as early as possible any ‘suspicious’ moles and second, simply to familiarize yourself with your own skin and moles so that you can more easily spot any changes in the future.
A full self-check means reviewing every section of skin from top to toe – including those easily forgotten areas that have not seen the sun like the scalp or between the toes.
A suspicious mole is different to the rest. Potential symptoms to look for include:
- Asymmetry: a mole that looks a bit lop-sided or uneven with a different shape from left to right.
- Border: mole edges that are not smooth – so they appear rough looking or notched – could indicate an early melanoma.
- Color: should be a fairly uniform block – patchy variation of color is another warning sign. Also look for unusual hues compared to other moles.
- Diameter: anything larger than the size of a pencil eraser could be cause for concern, but don’t ignore any that are small but suspicious in other ways
- Evolving: moles which seem to be changing in size, shape, color or height are deemed risky. Also watch out for itchiness, discharge, bleeding or crustiness.
If you have any concerns, then the first port of call is to see a general practitioner who can examine the mole and either put your mind at rest or refer you to a dermatologist for expert diagnosis and treatment if necessary.
Cosmetic Mole Removal
It is very important to have any concerns checked as soon as possible, but fortunately, the majority of moles are medically harmless.
Even when moles are deemed harmless, many people would prefer to have them removed either for peace of mind or for cosmetic reasons. In this case, the National Health Service rarely offers mole removal nowadays, but mole removal is available privately in skin clinics around the country.
While there are treatments for moles at certain beauty salons (such as radiofrequency or electrolysis), it is recommended to see a medical professional (doctor or surgeon) for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Mole removal can be done using a range of techniques according to the size, location and nature of the mole. Laser mole removal is the most popular option as it offers excellent results with minimal scarring and quick healing. For larger or raise moles, shave excision is a simple procedure requiring no stitches. For larger and more complex moles, mole removal surgery can be carried out using a scalpel in a procedure known as ellipse excision.
Given the risks of skin cancer, reputable skin treatment companies will have any removed moles tested as a matter of course for peace of mind.
So in summary, the message is to be vigilant for changing moles and seek attention as soon as possible if you have any suspicious moles. If there is no medical concern or referral and you still want your moles removed, this will probably need to be done privately; so look for a suitably qualified professional in a reputable establishment and insist on mole testing just to be sure.