Mole Patrol


I am a 42-year-old mother with a 17-year-old son who rarely wears sunscreen. Over the Memorial Day weekend, while at the pool, I noticed some moles on his back that concerned me. His comment was the typical teenage boy remark, “They have been there all my life, and don’t bother me.” Is it wrong to be a concerned mother, and should he see the dermatologist?


Moles can appear anywhere on the body, but tend to be more numerous above the waist than below the waist. Most people have no moles at birth. Moles present at birth, and in the first few months of life, tend to be larger than 6 mm (the diameter of a pencil eraser) and may have dark hairs. These moles are called congenital nevi or birth marks. Acquired moles, that is, moles that appear after the first year of life, tend to be smaller than or equal to 6 mm in diameter, symmetrical, and even in color. Acquired moles can appear until age 55 or 60 years of age.

Moles will vary in size and shape, and the number of moles an individual develops during his or her lifetime is an inherited trait. Moles do have an independent growth potential, but, again, rarely are larger than a pencil eraser. Most moles are flat and some shade of brown. With time, many will slightly enlarge and certainly grow in proportion to one’s body size. As years pass, many moles will slightly raise and some will develop hairs, although some will not change at all. If there is concern that a mole has changed (bleeding, begun to itch or hurt or developed irregular borders), becomes larger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser) or develops irregular color, it should be examined by a dermatologist.

The vast majority of moles are benign and will never be a threat to the health of a person, although some have cosmetic concerns. Therefore, it is best to get medical attention if you notice a “mole” that does not follow the expected pattern. An initial exam by a dermatologist may be able to assure you that the mole is harmless and could encourage your son to use sunscreen to prevent problems in the future.

If there is concern regarding a mole, there is a simple test called a biopsy, which allows microscopic evaluation of the mole to determine a diagnosis. It is important to remember that moles present a variety of appearances. They may be skin-colored to pink, tan to brown or even blue to black, but usually have an even color in a single mole. They may be round to oval, flat to raised, have hairs or not. If the appearance of a mole worries you or if one changes suddenly, seek evaluation by a dermatologist sooner, rather than later.

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