8.13.2007

Moles Vs. Freckles


Here's a fun fact about me that you may not know: I have 80 moles on just my left arm. I am a victim of a skin condition called moles and have been since I was born. The older I get, the more I get. The above photograph is a scanned image of my left arm demonstrating the number and appearance of my moles. I generally don't freckle - I mole. The more I think about this word and say it in my head, the more I think it sounds gross. But it's a topic I feel the need to bring up on my blog.

In the last few days, I have had at least three lengthy conversations with different people about the differences between moles and freckles. Most people have little to no knowledge of what moles are and are not. So, this is my attempt to clear up any misconceptions, stereotypes, or any other false notion that people might have about moles and freckles. It's important to note that the information provided was copied and pasted directly from webmd.com.

Freckles

Freckles are small brown spots usually found on the face and arms. Freckles are extremely common and are not a health threat. They are more often seen in the summer, especially among lighter-skinned people and people with light or red hair.

What Causes Freckles?

Causes of freckles include genetics and exposure to the sun.

Do Freckles Need to Be Treated?

Since freckles are almost always harmless, there really is no need to treat them. As with many skin conditions, it's best to avoid the sun as much as possible, or use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. This is especially important because people who freckle easily (for example, lighter-skinned people) are more likely to develop skin cancer.


Moles

Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups.

Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 20 years of a person's life. Some moles may not appear until later in life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood.

As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Often, hairs develop on the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.

What Causes a Mole?

Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.

Types of Moles

  • Congenital nevi are moles that appear at birth. Congenital nevi occur in about one in 100 people. These moles may be more likely to develop into melanoma (cancer) than are moles that appear after birth. If the mole is more than eight inches in diameter, it poses a significant risk of becoming cancerous.
  • Dysplastic nevi are moles that are larger than average (larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, uneven edges. These moles tend to be hereditary (passed on from parent to child through genes). People with dysplastic nevi may have more than 100 moles and have a greater chance of developing melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Any changes in a mole should be checked by a dermatologist to detect skin cancer.

How Do I Know if a Mole Is Cancer?

Most moles are not dangerous. The only moles that are of medical concern are those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 20. If you notice changes in a mole's color, height, size or shape, you should have a dermatologist (skin doctor) evaluate it. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful.

Examine your skin with a mirror or ask someone to help you. Pay special attention to areas of your skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, chest, neck, face, and ears.

If your moles do not change over time, there is little reason for concern. If you see any signs of change in an existing mole, if you have a new mole, or if you want a mole to be removed for cosmetic reasons, talk to your dermatologist.

The following ABCDEs are important characteristics to consider when examining your moles. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist. It could be cancerous.

  • Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border. The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular.
  • Color. The color of the mole is not the same throughout or has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red.
  • Diameter. The diameter of a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil.
  • Elevation.A portion of the mole appears elevated, or raised from the skin.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. The most common location for melanoma in men is the back and in women, it is the lower leg. Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25 to 29.

How Are Moles Treated?

If a dermatologist believes a mole needs to be evaluated further or removed entirely, he or she will either remove the entire mole, or first take just a small tissue sample of the mole to examine thin sections of the tissue under a microscope (a biopsy). This is a simple procedure. (If the dermatologist thinks the mole might be cancerous, cutting through the mole will not cause the cancer to spread.)

If the mole is found to be cancerous, and only a small section of tissue was taken, the dermatologist will remove the entire mole by cutting out the entire mole and a rim of normal skin around it, and stitching the wound closed.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Sara said...

"Often, hairs develop on the mole." Okay, that was a really funny sentence. I laughed out loud with that one. :)

I didn't know that the lower leg is the most common location for melanoma in women -- that's interesting. I wonder why . . . Maybe I'll become a dermatologist/researcher and develop some kind of medicine that will get rid of all your moles, Lexi. At least you didn't have a sizable one on your back cut off, leaving a gigantic scar . . .

And by the way, are you sure you copied the information for the first type of mole correctly? "If the mole is more than eight inches in diameter . . ." Eight inches!?! Do you mean centimeters? Or millimeters?

August 14, 2007 2:09 AM  
Blogger Lexia said...

Believe it or not I did copy it correctly from the site, so webmd.com is incorrect. I noticed the mistake as well and thought if someone isn't sure that their 8 inch mole is a problem then they must be pretty clueless. If I can reach out to that person and let them know that their 8 inch mole is abnormal, then I'm gonna do it.

August 14, 2007 1:25 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Yeah, the "Eight Inch Mole" freaked me out when I read that. But, unlike you guys, I didn't even consider that it was a mistake. I thought, "Dang, there are babies out there born with Eight Inch Moles?!? Is that like a birthmark? And are Eight Inch Moles still circular? And what if you had an Eight Inch Mole on your face?"

If I had a band, I would definitely name it Eight Inch Moles.

August 16, 2007 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> I am a victim of a skin
> condition called moles

There's no "skin condition" called "moles".

Ask any doctor in the world.

February 07, 2009 1:24 PM  
Blogger JS said...

ugh, what bothers me the most is when people say "every mole in the world is raised" and assume that they are mole free if they have no raised spots and then snub those who do have raised bumps. GET OVER IT, there is nothing wrong with having a few moles, as long as they're not cancerous

March 10, 2009 11:04 PM  
Blogger danielle said...

Thanks for posting this!
I have a lot of non-raised moles all over my body and people always try to tell me they are freckles! They are definitely moles. Haha.

April 24, 2009 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Carla said...

My friend is in mole denial. she insists that her un-raised moles are freckles but I'm going to show her this page.

She also has a huge wart on her hand that she calls a "tall callus."

August 08, 2010 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A flat dysplastic mole is significant for the chance of developing the most common type of melanoma, superficial spreading melanoma.

March 26, 2011 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have both moles and freckles. I have a lot of both and my arm very much looks like yours - except with freckles as well. My freckles are faint though and usually don't show up in photographs but my moles always do though, haha.

I know that having a lot of moles puts me at risk with melanoma though. I've seen the doctor a few times to have skin checks and recently went to see the dermatologist. I then went to a melanoma clinic as the dermatologist was concerned about one mole on my arm.

Like the information from the website you got, if a mole changes, then it could be melanoma. The mole in question though is asymmetric and dark but it hasn't changed over the years since I got it. Not every irregular mole is melanoma and very few are - its only if it changes.

However, like cancer, it could be a sudden change or happen slowly overtime. So if in doubt, you should always get it checked. If you're not happy with what one doctor says, consult another. This happened with my dad and even though one doctor dismissed it, another found that it was melanoma. If he listened to the first doctor and didn't get it removed, it would have killed them.

For my mole though, I now have to go back in three months and then have it checked for any changes. It then will be determined if I need to have it removed or not.

If you have a lot of moles/do get them, you should take photographs every few months of your body - to look out for any changes. Melanoma can kill you so early detection is important. It's always good to get your skin regularly checked (every few months) by a doctor and at least half yearly or yearly by a professional.

February 23, 2013 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had what I thought were freckles my whole life, on my face, arms and shoulders. I recently realized that all the really visible freckles on my arms and shoulders are moles, and my actual freckles are tiny and have way less pigment. I probably have twenty mole- like larger looking freckles on my arms alone, similar to the picture above. My mom had reddish brown hair and freckles everywhere. Brother has em too, only I have moles everywhere

April 05, 2013 8:34 PM  
Blogger Mac D'souza said...

Skin checks are carried out at regular interval of times. In case of any bleeding or itching that an employee suffers the doctor is immediately called.
skin checks

April 23, 2013 7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is everyone stupid or haven't looked at a single other website if they are worried about moles. It is an eighth of an inch mole or larger (1/8 inch) that can be dangerous. If anyone believed the 8 inch mole, do a little more research first. Typical pencil erasers are about an eighth of an inch in diameter, which is the general rule of thumb for getting a mole checked out. (See the ABCDE's of moles). Anyway, has anyone ever seen a mole 8 inches across? Should be your first red flag that some of the information provided here was incorrect. Peace!

June 07, 2013 10:17 AM  

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