Why do I have these brown spots on my body?
Moles, or Nevi (Nevus for only one) are very common. Most every adult has a few at the very least. They usually begin to appear on the skin when you are younger and some can develop as you get older. Usually they increase in number during adolescence and puberty. They often appear as brown bumps on the skin, but can also be skin colored, colorless, pink or red in color. They can also be very dark in color and look bluish-grey or almost black. Moles can also have hair growing out of them. They can be round or flat and usually do not change much from month to month.
Most moles are benign and not cancerous. When a child develops a mole, that mole may change as he or she gets older and grows. The mole can sometimes grow bigger, or change its color (darker or lighter). Often these changes are not an issue or reason for concern. However, in adults these changes in a mole are more worrisome. When examining your own skin I always try to stress to my patients to always be on the lookout for any mole or growth that is new or changing in any way. Not all new growths or lesions that change are bad, but some are and the earlier these are identified the better. The “ugly duckling” rule is one method that should be applied when examining your skin. Look for anything that stands out differently from the rest of the growths or moles that you see on your skin. A simple easy guide is what we call the ABCDE’s of moles.
- A: Asymmetry – Most benign moles are symmetric – meaning that if you fold the mole in half onto itself each side should match. Many malignant moles appear to be asymmetric and do not have a consistent shape.
- B: Border – The borders or edges tend to be irregular and jagged in cancerous or abnormal moles. Many benign growths have very smooth borders and edges.
- C: Color – Most benign moles are made up of one color (usually a shade of brown). When a mole or growth appears to have many different colors in shades of brown and black it could be a warning sign that something is wrong with that mole.
- D: Diameter – Most benign moles tend to be smaller than malignant ones. Malignant or abnormal moles are usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser. However, when detected early they may be smaller than this size.
- E: Evolving – Most benign moles remain stable and unchanged over time. But when a mole or growth begins to evolve or change you should have it evaluated. Any change that occurs should be a warning sign to have the growth checked. Look for change in size, color, elevation, texture, or other traits such as itching or bleeding.
Should this mole be removed?
A mole should be removed if it looks suspicious or concerning for any type of skin cancer or abnormal cells. During my evaluation I would tell you if I think a mole is suspicious looking and needs to be removed. If a mole is often bothersome or gets irritated or traumatized because of its location it should likely be removed so not to subject it to further trauma.
How is a mole removed?
- The easiest way to remove a mole is by what we call a shave removal. The mole is numbed with a local numbing agent by injection, and once the area is prepped I shave off the mole flat to the skin. The mole is then placed in a specimen jar and sent for evaluation by a dermatopathologist (a special trained doctor who will examine the mole and tell me if the mole is healthy or not and if any further treatment is needed). Check out the Procedure Care section to see how to take care of a mole after it is removed.
Never try to remove a mole at home by yourself!
Some important tips to keep your moles healthy:
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher 20-30 minutes before sun exposure.
- Re-apply sunscreen every 60-90 minutes while in the sun.
- Avoid peak hours of the sun between 10am and 2pm.
- Wear sun protective clothing.
- Do not burn!
- Avoid indoor tanning.
- Examine your skin once a month for new or changing spots.
- Have a yearly skin examination to ensure your skin is in good health.