Skin Cancer Explained

Can non-malignant moles become cancerous?

Most moles are harmless but could they be hiding melanoma or skin cancer?
MoleMap Team
July 24, 2019
4 minutes

Moles are fair­ly com­mon. Adults typ­i­cal­ly have any­where around 10 to 40 com­mon, or non-malig­nant, moles on their body. Some would pre­fer to call them beau­ty marks. Although moles are often harm­less, some kinds of moles have a high­er risk of devel­op­ing into melanoma.

To pro­tect your­self and your fam­i­ly, it’s impor­tant to be aware of how to spot abnor­mal moles in the body and be cau­tious of changes in an old mole or any new moles when you’re old­er as they can be an ear­ly sign of skin can­cer or melanoma.

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What Are Non-Malig­nant Moles?

A com­mon mole, also known as a nevus, is a non-malig­nant growth on the skin that appears dur­ing child­hood or ado­les­cence. They are usu­al­ly pink, brown, or tan in colour. They can take many dif­fer­ent forms, includ­ing freck­les, moles, skin tags, and seb­or­rhe­ic keratoses.

Moles run in fam­i­lies. Peo­ple with lighter skin are also prone to hav­ing more moles than dark­er-skinned indi­vid­u­als. Some moles will also light­en or dark­en with time as we age.

Most moles are non-malig­nant, or benign, and we may have them through­out our life­time. But it is a fact that peo­ple with more than 50 moles have a high­er risk of devel­op­ing melanoma. But when spot­ted ear­ly, can be effec­tive­ly treated.

Know­ing how to spot the dif­fer­ence between malig­nant and non-malig­nant moles is cru­cial so you can detect the sus­pi­cious ones ear­ly and take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to pre­vent them from becom­ing a risk to your health.

Can a Non-Malig­nant Mole Become Cancerous?

The short answer is yes. For adults, new moles and sud­den changes to exist­ing moles can be a sign of melanoma. Yale School of Med­i­cine points out, ​“Approx­i­mate­ly 70 per­cent of melanomas appear on nor­mal skin, while 30 per­cent orig­i­nate in a pre­ex­ist­ing mole in which changes in col­or, size, and/​or shape have occurred.”

When doing a skin check, take note of any growth changes to your moles such as the following:

  • Any size changes to an exist­ing mole (get­ting notice­ably small­er or bigger)
  • Any shape, tex­ture, or height changes (moles that sud­den­ly get hard or lumpy)
  • Any colour changes to an old mole
  • Moles that start to itch, bleed, or ooze
  • The sud­den appear­ance of new moles when you’re older
  • Hav­ing more than 50 moles in the body

For your peace of mind, if you notice these tell-tale signs, it is impor­tant to imme­di­ate­ly see your GP for a der­ma­tol­o­gist refer­ral or book an appoint­ment to your local Molemap Australia skin cancer clinic.

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Oth­er Types of Non-Malig­nant Moles

Atyp­i­cal Moles (Dys­plas­tic Nevi)

Atyp­i­cal moles look like com­mon moles, but they can be larg­er in size and may also have a dif­fer­ent shape or colour. They appear after sun expo­sure on cov­ered areas of the body such as the scalp or but­tocks. Although they may have some fea­tures of melanoma, most atyp­i­cal moles don’t become cancerous.

Con­gen­i­tal Melanocyt­ic Nevi

These kinds of moles are present at birth. The risk of con­gen­i­tal melanocyt­ic nevi becom­ing melanoma is between 0 to 10%. How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to note that those with larg­er con­gen­i­tal nevi are at a high­er risk of devel­op­ing melanoma, espe­cial­ly those found at the back.

They can be removed by surgery to avoid the risk of devel­op­ing into can­cer. Peo­ple with con­gen­i­tal nevi who choose not to remove them should learn how to do month­ly self-exam­i­na­tions or have them­selves reg­u­lar­ly checked by a dermatologist.

Need a Mole Checked?

Doing reg­u­lar skin self-checks are a must, espe­cial­ly for peo­ple who are at high risk for skin can­cer. If you notice any abnor­mal growths or changes to your moles, you need to get it checked right away.

The only way to diag­nose melanoma with absolute cer­tain­ty is to see a doc­tor or vis­it a melanoma detec­tion and sur­veil­lance clin­ic like MoleMap so you can have your skin checked by skin can­cer detec­tion specialists.

Don’t sec­ond-guess your­self. If you’re unsure about a mole in your body or if you notice a mole that may not have been there before, book an online MoleMap appoint­ment in your near­est MoleMap skin cancer clin­ic and get peace of mind.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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