The medical term for a mole is a “nevus,” although many times physicians use the term “mole” to refer to any type of benign (non-cancerous) growth. A nevus may be flat or raised, and it can range in color from flesh-colored, to tan, to shades of brown or even black. That being said, any very dark brown or black mole should be evaluated by a dermatologist to ensure that it is not cancerous or pre-cancerous. Some people have a genetic predisposition to having many moles, and extra sun precautions and skin surveillance may then be warranted. Although the vast majority of moles remain harmless, a mole can potentially transform over time into a melanoma. The ABCDEs of melanoma can be helpful in determining if a lesion should be examined by a physician:
A- Mole does not look the same on both sides B- Border of the mole becomes irregular C- Color variegation: Several colors are present in the mole, especially dark brown or black D- Diameter greater than 4mm (the size of a pencil eraser) E- Evolution: Mole appears to be changing over time
Because melanoma has a very high cure rate if detected early, dermatologists encourage all people to be aware of changing moles and to consult their dermatologist if any of their moles exhibit the above features. Sun exposure plays a significant role in changing a mole from benign to malignant; therefore, dermatologists recommend protection for people when they are outdoors. Tanning salons – even those that purport to be “safe” – are also a significant risk factor for the development of melanoma.