Most people have a number of small colored spots on their bodies-moles, freckles, birthmarks. The average young adult has at least twenty-five brown moles. A few of these spots are present at birth, while most others develop throughout life. Almost all moles are normal and remain so. However, a change in a mole or other spot on the skin may be a first sign of an early malignant melanoma or another form of skin cancer.
Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. They are usually brown in color and can be various sizes and shapes. The brown color is caused by melanocytes, special cells that produce the pigment in skin called melanin.
Moles present at birth are called congenital nevi. These moles may be more likely to develop a melanoma than moles which appear after birth. When a congenital mole is more than eight inches across, it poses the greater risk for developing melanoma.
Moles known as dysplastic nevi or atypical moles are larger than average (usually larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have an uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, sometimes reddish, uneven borders or black dots at the edges.
Persons with dysplastic nevi may have a greater-than-average chance of developing malignant melanoma. These people should be seen regularly by a dermatologist to check for any changes which might indicate skin cancer. They should also learn to do regular self-examinations, looking for moles, or the appearance of new moles. They should also shield their moles from sun exposure using sunscreen and/or clothing.
You should inspect your moles and pay special attention to their sizes, shapes, and color. A handy way to remember these features is to think of A-B-C-D and E for asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Evolution.