A mole is a common type of skin lesion, also referred to as nevi, that grows on top of the skin and is made of melanocytes (pigment-producing cells). The heavy pigmentation in these cells causes moles to be brown or black in color. Almost all moles are non-cancerous (benign) and are caused by the growth of skin cells that form clumps/clusters rather than spreading out along the skin. Most appear before the age of 30, many of which show up during early childhood. It is completely normal for an adult to have between 10 and 40 on their body. Over time, they may slowly change size, shape or color or start to grow hairs. Some become more prominent, while others fade over time.
Congenital nevi are moles that exist since birth and relatively rare – only 1 in 100 people have them. These can be more likely to become skin cancer than those that appear throughout life. These can be checked for the symptoms outlined below to make sure they do not put the child at risk.
Dysplasti nevi are ones that have an irregular shape and/or are larger than the eraser on a pencil. They often have dark centers and lighter, rougher edges. People who have them and individuals who have over 100 moles are at risk of developing a serious form of skin cancer called melanoma. These should be constantly monitored and checked by a dermatologist from time to time.
Moles can also appear due to skin damage from frequent sun exposure because ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage skin cells and cause abnormalities. These moles are more likely to behave differently than ordinary moles, and they are at a higher risk of becoming cancerous. If you are middle aged, pay attention to areas of skin that are frequently exposed to the sun such as the neck, face, shoulders, ears, arms and hands.
Symptoms of a Cancerous Mole
Most are not at all dangerous. However, ones that are itchy, painful, bleeding, changing color, increasing in size, asymmetrical or have uneven borders are more likely to be malignant. Moles that appear after the age of 30 are also at a higher risk of becoming cancerous. If you notice any of these signs or a significant change in size, height or shape you should consult your doctor or dermatologist (skin doctor).
If a mole has any (or several) of these warning signs, get it looked at by a dermatologist or doctor immediately:
- Color – The color is not uniform and/or there blue, red or white colors in it
- Diameter – Larger than the eraser on a pencil
- Asymmetry – Irregular shape where one side does not match the other
- Evolution – Significant changes in color, shape and/or size
- Border – Edges are rough, unclear or uneven
Methods of Removal & Procedure
If a dermatologist thinks there might be something wrong with a mole, they will first conduct a biopsy by taking a small tissue sample and having it analyzed. However, if it is clearly a health hazard, they will remove it entirely. There are various methods of removal, and the techniques available depend on numerous factors including the type and size of the mole. Before any mole removal procedure, the area is sterilized and the patient is given a local or topical anesthetic to prevent pain during the procedure.
Most are removed surgically by cutting or shaving it off the skin, or in more invasive cases, ones that penetrate deep within the skin require more extensive incisions and stitches to close them up. Surface level moles can be clipped off with surgical scissors or cut away with a scalpel. Stitches are not necessary, but the area is cauterized or a cream is applied to stop the bleeding. Incisions must be slightly larger than the mole itself to ensure it is completely removed. Some types of stitches require a follow-up appointment to be removed, while others will dissolve on their own. With surgical methods (especially the shaving technique), there is always a chance that it grows back and needs to be removed again.
Cryosurgery, or freezing, is an alternate removal method offered by some clinics. The most common approach to cryosurgery is to use liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the targeted area. Liquid nitrogen may be administered as a spray, or by dipping a cotton swab into the liquid nitrogen and applying it to the mole. This procedure may be performed multiple times to completely treat the area and prevent it from returning. After treatment, a blister typically forms. Once the area has healed, there may be some changes in skin pigmentation that become less noticeable over time.
Moles can also be removed by burning or electrocoagulation. A metal wire with a small amount of electric current is used to burn and destroy it. Depending on the size and depth of it, the area may need to be treated multiple times. In addition to treating the targeted area, the heat also stops the bleeding. Radiosurgery, which uses radio frequency waves, and laser treatments are other available methods that work in a similar manner.
Surgical removal is the preferred method due to the possibility of misdiagnosing a cancerous mole as benign. In situations where a mole is suspected or known to be malignant, surgical removal is the only method available that prevents damage to the tissue sample so it can be biopsied.
Mole removal creams are available for use at home. Although they cannot genuinely remove them, they make them less noticeable with continued use. This is an inexpensive alternative that may improve the look of their skin. However, it is not a substitute for having them assessed by a professional to ensure they are not malignant.
Benefits and Risks of Removal
As with any medical procedure there are both benefits and risks. Unless a mole is very large, many of the risks associated with anesthesia are eliminated through the use of topical or local anesthetics. Removal of a mole may result in scarring or infection. Freezing or burning moles to remove them are more likely cause the skin in that area to change pigmentation after healing.
The benefits of getting rid of them depend on the reasons for removal. For some individuals, the procedure is done to biopsy the area. Removal of the mole may put the individual’s mind at ease, even if it is benign. In circumstances where it is malignant, treatment prevents the cancer from spreading and putting the person’s health at risk. If the removal of a mole is purely cosmetic, the procedure can improve self-confidence.
Cost of Removal
The average cost ranges from $100 to $500 per mole and depends on a number of factors including shape, size and location on the body. Larger ones cost more to remove. Moles in highly visible areas must be removed more delicately, which results in a higher price. One that is raised may be easily clipped off, while deeper moles require more cutting and sometimes multiple treatments to ensure complete removal. The type of doctor that performs the removal will also impact the price. Specialists such as a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon charge more than general practitioner. Geographic location can also affect the price of procedures (primarily due to differences in cost of living, supply and demand). Physicians in major cities are more expensive, on average.
More advanced methods of removal such as lasers and cryosurgery are more expensive than cutting or shaving it away. However, the increased price may be justified when removing facial moles, where both patient and physician want to avoid leaving a scar. If a mole is sampled to perform a biopsy, there may be additional fees to pay for the lab work that is performed. However, these costs should be covered by insurance.
Removal procedures are not typically covered by health insurance unless it is considered medically necessary. Removal is considered medically necessary if a physician suspects the area may be precancerous or malignant and needs to be biopsied. Cosmetic removal is rarely covered. The cost that is covered by insurance varies for different plans; some may cover the procedure completely, while others may require a co-pay.
Individuals who are interested in removal for cosmetic reasons should consult several reputable doctors and get price estimates. Some doctors offer free consultations to accurately judge the price. Paying for the procedure in cash may qualify for a discounted rate. Individuals who do not have the money upfront may be eligible for a pre-approved line of credit, so they can pay for the procedure in monthly installments – making it much more affordable and worry-free.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only and should not be mistaken for medical advice. Be sure to consult your physician or dermatologist regarding any medical procedures or medications.
Material on this page is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult your physician or pharmacist regarding medications or medical procedures.