Callender Dermatology and Cosmetic Center | Glenn Dale MD

Moles & Birthmarks

Valerie D. Callender MD | Callender Dermatology & Cosmetic Center | Glenn Dale, MD

People worry about moles but they are very common. Most moles develop when we are young adults and are finished by the time we turn 30. The average person has between 10 and 40 moles. Most of these are completely harmless and need no attention, unless you want a mole removed for cosmetic reasons. Certain moles, however, can turn into skin cancer, so you need to keep an eye on your moles.

Birthmarks are equally innocuous, although they can be quite large. Many birthmarks will resolve themselves with time. Others are permanent. One form called congenital nevus increases the risk of skin cancer later on.

At Callender Dermatology, we keep an eye on your moles and birthmarks (if you have one). And if you’d like we can remove some of these growths. Here’s the lowdown on what to worry about and what to forget about with these skin growths

What is a mole?

The same cells that give skin its color, the melanocytes, cause moles. A mole is nothing more than a cluster of melanocyte cells. Moles are usually brown or black and can grow anywhere on your skin. Thanks to their melanin, moles can darken with sun exposure and due to hormonal changes, such as during puberty or pregnancy. Moles can change over time, developing hairs, becoming more raised, even changing color. When those changes in height, color, size, or shape occur, that’s when a mole could be transforming from harmless to a potential future melanoma.

Do I need to remove my moles?

Most moles on your skin are more harmless than those digging up your yard. When a mole is located in a very visible spot it can be unappealing. Or they can grow in awkward places, such as along your bra line. You may want to have moles like these removed for cosmetic reasons.

This is different than a mole that is showing signs of melanoma. These moles need to be removed immediately and tested for cancer.

What is a birthmark?

Birthmarks are skin blemishes that are noticeable at birth, or shortly afterwards. Many newborns have birthmarks. Vascular birthmarks are red, pink or purple and are caused by abnormal blood vessels under the skin. Pigmented birthmarks are usually brown and are caused when pigment cells cluster (as with moles).

Why birthmarks form is not fully understood. Vascular birthmarks are not inherited. Over-accumulation of cells can create other birthmarks. Some experts believe proteins produced by the placenta during pregnancy may be linked to a higher risk of developing some forms of birthmarks.

The vast majority of birthmarks pose no long-term health problems for the child; many of them eventually fade away. Some require treatment for cosmetic reasons and one form, known as congenital melanocytic nevi, can develop into skin cancer.

What are the types of birthmarks?

Moles & Birthmarks | Callender

There are various types of birthmarks. Here are their descriptions:

  • Café au lait spot — Flat area of darkened skin that is tan to dark brown. They are usually permanent and very common. Can occur anywhere on the body, and usually don’t need treatment.
  • Congenital nevus — Painless, large, dark-covered mole that appears on the scalp or the trunk of the body. Children with this type of birthmark are at an increased risk for skin cancer when adults.
  • Slate grey nevus — Large, blue-grey birthmark that can look like a bruise. Usually appears on the lower back. Doesn’t need any treatment.
  • Port wine stain — These permanent birthmarks start out as pinkish areas and darken as the child grows. They are more typical on the face. They don’t need treatment, but can cause emotional problems and may merit cosmetic treatment.
  • Salmon patches/stork bites — These reddish or pink patches are often found above the hairline at the back of the neck or on the eyelids. They don’t require treatment and may fade with time.
  • Hemangioma — These pink, bluish, or red birthmarks grow in the first few months after birth on the head, neck, arm, or leg. They may fade to only a subtle mark by age 10. They usually don’t need treatment unless growing very fast or if it impedes the child in some way.

Can birthmarks be removed?

Not all birthmarks can be removed, and many will fade away without any treatment. Treating birthmarks can be painful and doesn’t always make them go away. Unless it is causing problems with the child’s function or well-being, you need to weigh the issues with removing a birthmark against the perceived benefits.

Can moles or birthmarks develop at any time?

Moles usually don’t develop until the late teenage years into adulthood. At that point, their development is common and most people will develop at least 10. They rarely develop after the age of 30, although other growths that do develop in later years (usually due to sun damage) can be confused with moles.

Birthmarks are present at birth or develop in the first few months of a baby’s life. They do not develop at later periods.

How are moles removed?

Most moles don’t require any treatment. But they may be cosmetically unappealing or uncomfortable when they rub on your clothing, and you may want the mole surgically removed. Obviously, moles that are showing signs of possible melanoma need to be removed and examined.

Removing a mole takes just a few minutes. Generally, at Callender Dermatology we remove moles in three ways:

  • Excision — Some moles can be shaved off with a blade. Other moles with cells under the skin will require a deeper incision to remove the entire mole and prevent it from returning. This may require a couple stitches to close.
  • Freezing — Liquid nitrogen can be sprayed or swabbed onto the mole. This freezes the mole’s cells and they die. The mole will peel off in a week or two.
  • Burning — An electric current that heats a wire can be used to burn off moles. Larger moles may take more than one treatment to fully remove them.

Is there recovery after mole removal?

Mole removal, whatever method is used, is a simple outpatient procedure. If the mole is cut out, there may be a couple stitches. Otherwise, freezing and burning will merit little more than a bandage to cover the mole until it peels off. A small blister can develop around the mole when liquid nitrogen is used. Unless the mole is in a spot where it is touched or rubbed, there really isn’t any recovery with their removal.

How are birthmarks removed?

Birthmarks are much more difficult to remove than moles. Dr. Callender will likely be able to give you a good idea of how a certain birthmark will progress, and if it needs any attention, much less removal.

These are typical methods for either shrinking or removing birthmarks:

  • Corticosteroids — These can be injected directly into hemangioma birthmarks to stop them from growing or to make them shrink.
  • Interferon alfa-12 — If steroids aren’t effective, this medication may be used to stop or shrink a birthmark.
  • Laser therapy — Port-wine stains and other birthmarks that are close to the surface may respond to laser energy to reduce the capillaries.
  • Surgery — Surgery is not as common with birthmarks, but if other methods are having no effect surgery is an option.

What do I look for in a mole if it may be cancerous?

Mole Checkup | Callender

As noted above, most moles never need attention and never cause any issues. Occasionally, however, a mole can be a precursor to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If a person has more than 50 moles, he or she has a greater risk for developing melanoma.

This is what you look for in a potentially cancerous mole. The mole…

  • Is larger than six millimeters
  • Itches and bleeds
  • Changes color, size or shape
  • Has multiple colors
  • Is located where it can’t be easily monitored, such as on the scalp

If your mole looks like any of those descriptions, we need to see you at Callender Dermatology immediately.

Can a birthmark be cancerous?

Only congenital melanocytic nevi birthmarks are linked with cancer, although the risk is low. Cancer risk is linked to the size of the birthmark — the bigger the size, the higher the risk.

Does tanning make a mole or birthmark worse?

Changes in hormone levels and tanning can make moles darker. It doesn’t make you create new moles. Most birthmarks don’t change with exposure to UV rays.

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