Column: Learning The Different Types Of Moles

June 17, 2021

Mass General Column Bermuda June 2021[Column written by Dr Elena Hawryluk]

As the summer beckons, it’s time to set our sights on family days in the sun. Whether your kids are heading to the beach, playing sports or having picnic, it’s important that you make sure their skin is safe from sunlight – especially if they have moles. Moles are small growths on the skin. Most moles are safe and will not cause harm. Learn about different types of moles and how to know when a mole is safe, and how to check your child’s moles every month for signs of skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that at least one of five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Skin cancer makes up 3% of pediatric cancers and is particularly important in Bermuda, where rates are higher than the US average.

What is a Mole?

A mole is a small, often brown growth on the skin. Moles can be big or small. They can be different colors, like brown, black, red, pink, blue or gray. Moles can also be flat or raised. A mole is called a nevus. More than 1 mole are called nevi.

What Causes Moles?

Moles are caused by groups of skin cells called melanocytes. The number of moles on the body is related to genetics [passed down from one family member to the next] and being out in the sun.

Can My Child Have Moles Removed?

Yes, but most moles do not need to be removed. Removal involves a small surgery. Your child will have a scar after removing the mole. Talk with your child’s dermatologist [skin doctor] if you want to ask about removing the mole.

What are the Different Types of Moles?

Benign nevi [moles]

  • Benign nevi are normal moles. They are not a sign of melanoma, or skin cancer. Benign nevi have a very low chance of turning into skin cancer.

Dysplastic nevi

  • Dysplastic nevi are also called atypical nevi. Dysplastic nevi may have edges that are not perfectly round. They can have more than one color. They can also be flat or raised. Dysplastic nevi have a low chance of turning into skin cancer.

Congenital nevi

  • Congenital nevi are moles that your child was born with or developed soon after birth. If your child has many congenital nevi or a large congenital nevus, he has a slightly higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life. A dermatologist will tell you how often your child should have her moles checked.

How Do I Check My Child’s Moles?

Remember the ABCDE’s of checking moles. Sometimes, moles on children look different from moles on adults.

If you child has any of these signs, call Pediatric Dermatology at 617-643-6633.

  • Asymmetry
    • Asymmetry is when the mole’s shape or color does not match on both sides.
  • Border
    • The border, or edges, of the mole are not even.
  • Color
    • The mole is a different color, has more than 1 color, or is black. Sometimes, melanoma in children can appear pink.
  • Diameter
    • The diameter is how wide the mole is. If the mole is wider than a pencil eraser, call Pediatric Dermatology.
  • Evolving
    • When something is evolving, it means it is changing. If your child’s mole changes very fast or changes color, shape or size, call Pediatric Dermatology and request an urgent appointment.

Check your child’s moles for bleeding or oozing. Call Pediatric Dermatology if your child’s mole bleeds or oozes.

Check your child’s skin for new and current moles or skin changes once [1 time] every month. Look closely at the skin all over your child’s body. This includes the scalp, on bottom of the feet and between the fingers, toes, and buttocks.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

  • If your child has any signs from the ABCDE list.
  • If the mole starts to bleed or ooze.
  • If the mole “looks funny” or does not look right.

Did You Know?

You can develop benign nevi [harmless moles] at any time. It is normal for people to develop new moles until age 40. It is also normal for some moles to disappear.

Moles can grow as your child grows. If your child’s mole is growing slowly and does not change shape or color, the mole is usually normal.

- Dr. Elena Hawryluk, Pediatric Dermatologist, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School, Faculty Director of Pediatric Dermatology, Harvard Combined Dermatology Residency Program


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