Any odd dark spot on the skin, in all likelihood, is just a mole. Most people are likely to have ten to fifty moles on their body. Some of them look good, especially the ones we call 'beauty spots' on the face, but some are not so flattering. Some moles are black or brown, and yet others are flesh colored or yellowish. The color of the mole is determined by the amount of melanin in it. In medical terms, a mole is called melanocytic nevus. It occurs when melanocytes (skin cells) form clusters instead of being spread through the skin. It is extremely important to differentiate a benign mole from one that can lead to cancer.
Types of Moles
Moles that are benign have certain characteristics, like:
- They are uniform in color, namely pink, brown, or black.
- They have a smooth, regular border.
- They are round or oval in shape.
- They are varied in size, from tiny dots to large ones.
- They can be flat or slightly raised like a bump.
- They may or may not have hair on them.
- The shape is irregular and not defined.
- They are raised and flat at the same time.
- They are larger than common moles.
- Their color is dark brown with a pinkish border.
- These are mostly found on the breast, buttocks, scalp, chest or back region.
- They can occur in large numbers all over the body. A person with a condition of dysplastic nevi can have up to 100 moles.
- They can occur for the first time after you've crossed 20 years of age.
- These can be painful and scaly.
- They may itch or bleed.
Types of Mole Removal
There are various techniques used for removing moles. You may wish to undergo these treatments for cosmetic or health reasons (in case you have a malicious mole). The procedures for some of them are listed below.
- Minor Surgery: In this method, a surgeon removes the mole with a scalpel and then stitches the open wound. This method is painful, and so painkillers are generally prescribed. It can lead to scarring of the operated region, which may last for a few weeks, or even months.
- Electrocautery/Hyfrecators: This technique requires the surgeon to shave off the mole with a scalpel and then destroy the melanin forming tissue with an electric needle. This procedure may lead to scarring.
- Cryosurgery: This surgery involves the use of liquid nitrogen to destroy the tissues. In some cases, a deeper cut is required to be made before operating. Mild pain is often experienced in the process.
- Laser Surgery: This surgery is fast gaining popularity, as it is the least painful procedure, and results in minimal scarring. In this method, the surgeon uses a special laser to destroy the mole tissues. The chances of the surrounding tissues getting damaged are minimal in this process. However, moles that have some cells penetrating deep inside the skin cannot be removed using this method.
- Acid Treatment: This method doesn't involve any surgery. It includes the use of medicated creams and acids to get rid of the mole and destroy the tissues. Glycolic or salicylic acid peels are generally used here. This procedure takes up to six weeks to be effective, though the scars do not go away easily.
- Herbal Treatment: This procedure uses formulas like BIO-T or H-Moles, that need to be applied to the mole and covered up with a band-aid. After a week of continuous application, the mole will dry up and get destroyed. Scarring is minimum due to creams that are applied after the mole is destroyed.
- Serial Excision: Larger moles (up to 4 inches) can also form, although they are not so common (only 0.00005% of the population is affected by them). These require various sessions of removal till all the skin cells of the nevus are removed. A scar made by these needs to be skin grafted as it is too big to be stitched. The graft is very fragile as compared to the nearby skin, and needs to be taken special care of.
- Home Remedies: Pineapple juice, honey, lime juice, etc., are used in removing moles. However, once you choose a particular substance, use the same one until you get rid of the mole completely. This can take a few months, so be patient.
Preparing for Mole Removal
- The mole region is cleansed with alcohol, Betadine, etc.
- It is then numbed with the help of a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine. A sterile wrap may be used to prevent any infection.
- Once the blood flow to the area is reduced, the doctor proceeds with the operation.
- Removal without stitches- Ointments and topical antibiotics are prescribed after the removal. Also, the area is bandaged.
- Removal by cutting with stitches- Generally, darker and flatter moles are treated this way. The area to be operated on is identified, sterilized, and numbed before excision. Sometimes, a part of the surrounding area is also removed to ensure complete removal of the mole. Some sutures are absorbable (especially the ones deep inside the skin), while others need to be removed after some time. So, they need a little more self-care as recommended by the doctor.
- The first and foremost thing here is to use antiseptics and proper dressing on the operated area.
- Also, make sure that you use hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound on a daily basis, till it heals completely.
- Scar remedies available in the market help heal the wound quickly by providing a protective layer under which rapid healing can take place.
- Once operated, keep the area free from dust, sunlight, and makeup.
Common Myths Regarding Skin Moles
- Myth 1: All Moles are Cancerous
Most moles are not cancerous. New moles, especially the ones that occur after the age of 20, and the existing ones that have changed over time, need to be inspected. Along with these, sores that do not heal also need to be examined.
- Myth 2: All Cancerous Moles Follow the ABCDE Rule
The ABCDE rule stands for Asymmetrical, Border Irregularities, Color, Diameter and Evolving (changing with time), the signs of a potentially harmful mole as mentioned in the characteristics of dysplastic nevi. The mole may or may not be harmful.
- Myth 3: Picking at a Mole Makes it Bigger/Cancerous
Picking irritates the skin and leads to lesions that may lead to infections. However, it does not make the mole larger, or does not lead to development of cancer.
- Myth 4: People of Color Do Not Develop Melanoma
Caucasians are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma as compared to other races. However, not many people know that African-Americans are more likely to develop skin cancer in non-sun-exposed areas of the body, including the nails, mouth, nasal passages, genitals, soles of the feet, and palms of the hands.