How Is A Cancerous Mole Treated?

Most people have moles on their bodies, and a lot of the time, they’re nothing to worry about. However, you do need to keep a close eye on them — in some cases, they can be a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Here we take a closer look at the different types of moles, how to tell if a mole is cancerous and how a cancerous mole is treated.

What is a mole?

Moles are small, coloured spots on the skin that can be flat or raised and appear brown or black. Moles may have hair growing from them, and they can feel smooth or rough in texture.

It is normal for babies to be born with moles, but new moles can appear in children and teenagers too. Some moles will fade or even disappear completely as you age, while others may stay for your entire lifetime.

Moles are caused when melanocytes, the cells in the skin that create melanin (pigment), grow in clusters. This creates a dark circle or oval-shaped part of the skin that is identified as a mole.

What are the different types of moles?

Although moles can look similar in appearance, there are four recognised types.

Congenital moles

Congenital moles that you are born with, and are very common — around one in 100 people is born with these kinds of moles. It is worth noting that large congenital moles are associated with an increased risk of a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

Acquired nevi (Common mole)

Unlike congenital moles, acquired nevi moles develop after birth. Many of those form in childhood and early adult life. They are typically small but can vary in appearance and size.

It’s not unusual to see new moles pop up on your body. However, if you have more than 50 of them, it could put you at a higher risk of melanoma.

Dysplastic nevi (Atypical mole)

These moles are considered abnormal. They are unusual-looking moles which have irregular features; they may be large, have uneven edges or surfaces, and may become discoloured or grow in size over time. These moles are the most common type that can develop into melanoma.

Spitz naevus

Spitz naevus is a rare type of mole. It is not cancer but can look worrying and be similar in appearance to melanoma. These moles can be pink and dome-shaped, as well as other colours, such as red and brown, appearing on the mole.

A skin specialist (dermatologist) can check whether your mole is a Spitz naevus or melanoma. If it is hard to tell, they may want to remove the mole for further examination under a microscope in a laboratory.

How to tell if a mole is cancerous

The best way to check if a mole is cancerous is by taking a tissue sample (biopsy) of the mole and having it tested for melanoma. A dermatologist or skin surgeon will carry out a biopsy.

Changes to your moles need to be checked, including:

  • Changes in shape or if it becomes uneven looking
  • Changes in colour
  • It becomes itchy, flaky, crusty or bleeds
  • It becomes larger
  • It changes in texture (becoming raised or bumpy)

These signs don’t necessarily mean that a mole is cancerous, but it is best to check. Changes to moles usually happen over a few weeks or months, so make sure you speak to a doctor as soon as you notice any changes.

How is a cancerous mole treated?

The main treatment for cancerous moles is surgery and removal, but it will depend on your situation. The location of the moles and how advanced the cancer has become will determine what type of treatment is necessary.

Mohs surgery

Mohs surgery is often recommended for patients who have cancerous moles in difficult areas of the body such as the face, hands, and genitals. This surgery is an accurate way of successfully removing cancerous moles and decreases the chance of them coming back.

Mohs surgery is carried out under local anaesthetic, so you will be awake during the procedure. However, you will be given a long-acting anaesthetic so that you don’t feel any pain after the initial injection.

The removed skin sample will be taken for analysis and a dressing applied while the results are processed. If the results are clear and the tumour has been fully removed, then the wound can be closed on the same day. Sometimes it will be necessary for you to be referred to another surgeon for closure.

Recovery is fairly quick, but it will depend on how complex your procedure was. Most people heal within one to two weeks, and you may want to take a few days off work to rest and recuperate.  You won’t be able to do any sort of exercise including swimming and heavy lifting for at least two weeks afterwards either.

Recovery time is also dependent on how many stages it takes to clear the tumour away. In 70% of cases, the tumour can be removed in the first stage, but if it is larger, it can take multiple stages to be fully removed.


Certain factors can increase your risk of developing cancerous moles. Several lifestyle changes can help to significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer, including avoiding sunlamps and sunbeds and overexposure to direct sunlight without UV protection.

You can also take steps to protect your skin and prevent cancerous moles, such as:

  • Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 all year round
  • Wearing clothing that keeps you covered, including hats with wide brims
  • Staying in the shade during the sunniest parts of the day
  • Becoming familiar with your skin and moles so that you can spot any changes as soon as they happen

Some risk factors can’t be avoided, such as a family history of melanoma, a weakened immune system, living closer to the equator or having fair skin. Check with your dermatologist if you think you may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

Mole check

Early detection is key to treating cancerous moles, and this can be achieved through regular mole screening.

A mole screening will take a look at your sun exposure history and risk factors for cancer. The dermatologist will also examine your skin using a dermatoscope (a handheld instrument which looks a bit like a magnifying glass) to inspect your moles more closely. The dermatologist will then be able to advise you if any further monitoring or removal is needed.

Moles are common, but they are something that you need to keep a close eye on as they can become cancerous.

If you’re concerned or worried about any of your moles, book a mole check with our expert team at OneWelbeck.