Your doctor can diagnose moles by looking at your skin. During a skin exam, your doctor inspects your skin from head to toe. If your doctor suspects that a mole may be cancerous, it is removed and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope (biopsy).
You might choose to make a skin exam a regular part of your preventive medical care. Talk with your doctor about a schedule that's appropriate for you.
Most moles don't need treatment. If you're self-conscious about a mole, you could try makeup to help conceal it. If you have a hair growing from a mole, you might try clipping it close to the skin's surface or plucking it. Anytime you cut or irritate a mole, keep the area clean. See your doctor if the mole doesn't heal.
You might also talk with your dermatologist about surgically removing a mole if it bothers you or if you notice suspicious changes in it. Mole removal takes only a short time and is usually done on an outpatient basis. Your doctor numbs the area around the mole and cuts it out, along with a margin of healthy skin if necessary. The procedure may leave a permanent scar. People with Black skin are at increased risk of other surgical side effects, such as pigmentary changes at the incision site and keloid scars.
If you notice that a mole has grown back, see your doctor promptly.
Preparing for your appointment
If you have a mole that concerns you, your family doctor can usually let you know if it's normal or needs further investigation. He or she may then refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist) for diagnosis and treatment.
It's a good idea to arrive for your appointment well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
- List any changes you've noticed or any new symptoms you're experiencing. Include any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Bring a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- If you've had a melanoma or a mole removed in the past, note the location of the lesion and the date of removal. If you have the biopsy report, bring it with you.
- Don't wear makeup or opaque nail polish to your appointment. These products make it difficult for your doctor to perform a thorough exam.
- List questions to ask your doctor.
For moles, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- Do you think this mole might be cancerous?
- What's the most appropriate course of action?
- How can I tell if a mole needs to be looked at?
- Can I prevent more moles from developing?
- Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you first notice this mole?
- Have you always had it, or is it new?
- Have you noticed any changes in this mole, such as its color or shape?
- Have you had other moles surgically removed in the past? If so, do you know if they were unusual (atypical nevi) or malignant?
- Do you have a family history of atypical nevi, melanoma or other cancers?
- Have you had peeling sunburns or frequent exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as from tanning beds?