If you have a lot of moles on your body, you might be worried about the increased risk of skin cancer. While a large number of moles and having certain types of moles can put you at an increased risk of melanoma, you don't need to worry about every one. However, changes to the look or feel of moles can be something to look out for or have checked by a professional.
Moles are very common. The scientific name for a mole is nevus, or nevi, derived from the Latin word for birthmarks. Nevi are spots on the skin that are brown or black. They can be raised or flat and may have hairs growing from them. Moles or skin growths can also be red, known as cherry angiomas, or some can even be blue.
You might be wondering why you have so many moles on your body, but let's first look at what moles are and how they develop.
Common Areas of the Body Where Moles Appear
- Arms and legs
- Face and neck
- Scalp and head
Moles can appear anywhere on the skin. Less common areas include the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and in between your fingers and toes.
How Do Moles Form?
Nevi, or moles, typically appear in childhood and early adulthood. They form on the skin due to a cluster of melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce the pigment melanin, responsible for giving the skin its colour.
Studies have shown that mutations in the BRAF gene are responsible for stimulating the growth of moles. Like freckles, they are more common in fair-skinned people.
Reason #1: Genetics
Genetics determines not only the number of moles you are likely to have but also their location.
An atypical mole, or dysplastic nevi, is usually hereditary. A family history of this type of mole can play a part in increasing a person's risk of developing skin cancers.
Though benign, atypical moles can have the characteristics of a cancerous mole. They can vary in colour from tan to brown or even pink. In terms of shape, they can have an irregular or notched border or edges and are usually around 6mm in diameter, about the size of a pencil eraser. Their texture can vary from smooth to scaly and rougher than a normal mole.
Even sex can play a part in having a large number of moles. One study found a large number of moles on the lower limbs of women were likely influenced by a gender-specific genetic makeup.
Reason #2: Sun exposure
It's thought that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, especially in childhood, can lead to moles later in life. This is because the sun damages the DNA in skin cells. This then causes mutations that can lead to melanocytes dividing out of control. Therefore, staying safe in the sun can reduce the number of moles that develop on the skin.
Get into the habit of applying sunscreen every day, use clothing to protect yourself from the sun, avoid tanning beds and book in for regular skin checks to help identify any parts of your body that need particular attention.
Reason #3: Hormonal changes
Hormones can also influence the number of moles on a person's body. New moles can sometimes appear as hormones fluctuate due to pregnancy, menopause or adolescence. These hormonal changes can often cause moles to become darker and larger. There is still a lot of research to be conducted on how hormonal changes influence moles.
Reason #4: Ageing
You can develop moles at any age. Some are with you at birth but most have been acquired by the time you are about 30.
Most of the damage to our skin from sun exposure is caused during childhood. However, the effects of this damage are not seen until later in life. As we age, the skin also loses its ability to repair itself as quickly and so it is not uncommon to develop moles later in life.
However, moles can also fade with age. Therefore, if you notice a new spot that you suspect is a mole, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a skin doctor.
Reason #5: Certain drugs and medical conditions
Moles may develop due to a suppressed immune system as the body responds to the use of certain drugs, including common medications such as antidepressants.
Although they don't cause a suppressed immune system as such, some skin conditions such as eczema can cause immune cells in the skin to become extra sensitive and lead to the development of moles.
Having moles can increase your risk of melanoma
While it's not the most common type of skin cancer, melanoma is the most serious. It's rare for common moles to develop into melanoma, but atypical moles, sometimes called dysplastic nevus, are one of the risk factors considered in a person's lifetime risk of developing melanoma. And the more atypical moles you have, the greater the chance of developing skin cancer.
New moles and skin growths that appear in adults are more likely to become cancerous than old moles. As you can have skin cancer and be asymptomatic, it's important to be on the lookout for cancer warning signs and symptoms, such as if moles become itchy, begin bleeding, cause pain or undergo a rapid change in appearance.
If you have a skin check and there is a chance that a mole is cancerous, the mole may be removed. This step of early detection can greatly boost your prognosis. The Melanoma Institute Australia says surgical removal leads to a successful outcome for 90% of melanoma cases.
Have your moles checked by a doctor regularly
While sun exposure and genetics play a large part in how many moles a person has, one of the best things you can do for your health is to undergo regular skin checks with doctors who specialise in skin cancer detection and treatments. This is especially important if you have a lot of moles, as noticing changes may be harder if you have a lot to keep track of, and your doctor can do this for you with photographic tracking systems.
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