Not everyone loves their moles as much as Cindy Crawford. If your mole is more of a blemish than a beauty spot, read 4Beauty's guide to laser mole removal and mole removal cost by leading dermatologist Jonathan Bowling. Plus, learn how to check your skin for signs of skin cancer.
A mole is a brown mark on the skin and is usually darker than the surrounding skin. Moles are usually larger and darker than freckles and fewer in number. Freckles are generally found where your skin is exposed to the sun, such as the nose, cheeks, and the outer aspect of the arms and shoulders, whereas moles can occur on any part of the body.
There are lots of other common benign (non-harmful) skin marks or blemishes. These include angiomas - small round, symmetrical red dots which you could find on your chest and abdomen, or seborrhoeic keratoses - the multiple brown warty growths that are sometimes found on the torso.
Rather than be scared about your moles, it is more important to become familiar with them. This is because a change in mole appearance and feel is one of the key indicators they might be a sign of melanoma (skin cancer).
Unfortunately, not only is the rate of skin cancer increasing faster than any other form of cancer in the UK, but it is also the most common form of cancer in young adults aged between 15 and 34. This rise is partly due to British sun-seekers suffering repeated sunburn episodes, from sunbed use or overseas holidays.
Healthy moles look alike. So, the first sign that a mole could be unhealthy is often that it will start to look different to the others. It's important that if you do notice any change in the appearance of your mole (such as changing shape or growing in size) that you get it checked out by your doctor or a skin cancer expert at this stage. Early detection of change is vital as there is typically a small window of opportunity to detect change in a melanoma before it has the potential to spread.
If you are worried about a mole, visit your GP who can refer you directly to a skin cancer expert if they share your concerns. However always ensure that you see a doctor trained in skin cancer diagnosis using dermoscopy (a diagnostic technique proven to increase accuracy for skin cancer diagnosis) to ensure a skin cancer is not missed. Skin cancer rates in the UK are on the increase so it's important to be vigilant if you have any concerns.
Laser treatment can reduce the size of a mole and reduce the pigmentation - and make the mole less obvious - but importantly it does not remove the entire mole. This process also doesn't allow for any tissue to be sent to the laboratory for analysis, so it's essential that the mole is confirmed as benign and innocent by an expert before laser treatment. Laser mole removal should only be performed by a recognised skin expert as treatment without correct prior diagnosis can result in a melanoma being mistreated, with the obvious serious consequences of allowing this skin cancer time and the opportunity to spread.
The standard way in which moles are removed is with simple skin surgery. Either by a gentle removal (shaving) of the top layers of the mole, in line with the surface of the skin, or by removing the mole entirely, depending on whether the mole causes cosmetic concern or is clinically suspicious. Both surgical processes will allow the tissue removed to be sent to the laboratory for diagnosis. If the entire mole is fully removed stitches will be required.
Both surgical procedures will require a local anaesthetic injection to numb the skin, which may cause mild discomfort. The shaving of the top layer procedure will heal very quickly, like a graze, while full excision (removal) will typically leave a thin scar.
There is now clear Department of Health guidance that only a recognised skin cancer specialist should excise suspicious moles and your GP can refer you directly to your local specialist if necessary on the NHS for free. If you choose to seek private treatment ensure that cost does not affect the choice of surgical procedure; the full excision is more expensive than the shaving procedure and although it maybe an extra cost, insist all samples should be sent for analysis.