Many people who have large moles, especially on the face, are insecure about it. They can cause feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. Thankfully, mole removal is fairly easy, low cost, and not painful.
A mole, otherwise known as a melanocytic nevus, is a benign (non-cancerous) growth of the melanocytes (or pigment-producing cells) of the skin. In other words, a mole is a small discoloration on the skin that can darken and grow larger over time. Some are flat, some are raised, some are called “beauty marks” and others “skin tags” (small flesh-colored growths). Moles are natural and nearly everyone is born with them. Most of them have already appeared on our skin by the time we reach our 40s. However, new moles can grow even into our 90s.
It’s normal to have as many as 40 moles. They increase as a result of our exposure to both direct and indirect sunlight. And the more moles we have on our bodies, the more likely we are to develop an abnormal mole or a malignant melanoma (skin cancer). While the vast majority of moles will remain benign and trouble-free, early detection of any problems followed by proper treatment can drastically improve your chances for a cure if ever you do develop skin cancer.
Keep a close eye on your skin! To detect problems with moles, watch for changes in their size, color and shape. A good rule of thumb to remember as you examine your moles is the “ABCD” rule.
- “A” stands for “asymmetry”. Most moles are round or oval and symmetrical. If one half of the mole grows faster than the other half, it will look uneven or asymmetrical. This is one indicator of a potentially troublesome mole.
- “B” stands for “border” irregularity. Normal moles have borders that are sharp and even. If the borders become irregular or ragged, it means there may be abnormal growth and it should be checked out.
- “C” stands for “color”. Most moles are evenly colored throughout. If the color changes significantly, and it develops black, dark brown, red, gray or white areas, this could signal a problem.
- “D” is for “diameter”. Moles may grow in size but they usually stop after we reach about 20 years of age. If a mole keeps growing or is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, it should be evaluated. You also should have your moles checked if they are painful or itchy, or if they bleed, ooze or become scaly.
For women, the most common location for developing melanoma is on the lower leg and for men it’s on the back. If your dermatologist thinks your mole may be a cause for concern, he/she will either remove a small sample and biopsy the tissue and follow up with further treatment, if necessary, or remove the mole entirely right away. If the mole is benign, as most are, you have nothing to worry about. But early detection of a problem mole can save your life.
Even if your moles are trouble-free, you may be unhappy with them, they may be in a spot where friction from your clothing causes irritation, they may bother you when you shave, or you want to get rid of them for aesthetic reasons, particularly if you have many on your face or other visible parts of your body. In this article we will go through the various mole removal methods along with the effectiveness, cost and risks of each.
Mole Removal by Excision
The most common mole removal method is probably surgical excision. The dermatologist or plastic surgeon will cut out the mole and remove it with some surrounding tissue. He/she will usually close up the incision with fine sutures, although this may not be necessary for tiny moles in unobtrusive locations. In some cases the skin can be cauterized (burned) after removal or a solution can be applied to minimize bleeding. Large, deep moles may require several layers of sutures – dissolving sutures in the deep layers and fine sutures on the surface (to be removed after several days).
Excision is also the method that will be used if your mole is, or is suspected to be, malignant. Moles removed by excision rarely grow back because the mole and its deeper “roots” have been completely removed.
It’s impossible to cut into our skin without leaving a scar, but most moles are small enough that any remaining scar should fade with time. If your mole is in a very conspicuous spot, choose your plastic surgeon or dermatologist carefully. Skilled doctors know how to minimize scarring. Most moles will not leave behind any noticeable scarring.
The cost for surgical excision of moles will depend on their size, shape and location and the doctor who performs the procedure, but you can expect to pay between $500 and $1,200, including the cost for the tissue biopsy. If your mole is suspicious and is being removed for medical reasons, you can expect your health insurance carrier to cover the expense.
Mole Removal by Sculpting or Shaving
Moles don’t grow only above the skin, but penetrate into tissue beneath the surface. As long as the mole is benign, you may prefer this common method where the doctor shaves off the part of the mole above the surface with a scalpel until it is flush with the surrounding skin. Usually he/she will administer some local anesthetic to alleviate any discomfort. No stitches are required so mole removal by shaving or sculpting should leave no scar. This procedure can typically be done in less than 15 minutes.
The cost for mole removal by shaving will range from $150 to $350, plus about $400 if the tissue is sent for a biopsy. Your health insurance carrier may cover the expense if your mole is suspicious and is being removed for medical reasons. Moles removed by sculpting or shaving can sometimes grow back but can be removed again.
Since this method only addresses the part of the mole above the surface of the skin and not the part below the skin, it should never be done for malignant moles. Those should always be completely excised by a qualified dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon.
Cryotherapy for Mole Removal
Cryotherapy, or cryosurgery, has been used since the early 1900s and is very common today for the removal of benign and malignant lesions, including moles. This method is also known as “freezing” because it works by applying liquid nitrogen (or argon) to the mole. The liquid nitrogen forms ice crystals inside the cells and tissues and causes them to die. (Cryotherapy is like a controlled form of frostbite.) No stitches are required. After treatment, a blister will form and the mole will dry out and fall off in a few weeks.
You may experience some mild pain and redness but there will usually be no scar, although the area may develop light or dark spots. Risks are that surrounding skin tissue could be damaged and there could be damage to nerve tissue. Cryotherapy may not be effective for suspicious moles or large moles with deep roots below the skin’s surface. You can expect to pay about $100 to $300 per mole for cryotherapy.
Laser Mole Removal
As laser technology improves, it is finding more uses, and mole removal is one of them. Ablative lasers destroy the moles by pulsing them with the laser light beam to “burn” them off and decrease or remove the dark pigmentation. However, there is no tissue left over to send for biopsy and this could be hazardous. Laser mole removal should not be done if there is even a slim chance the mole may be malignant. Laser mole removal is best used for small or flat moles.
Some say that laser mole removal leaves no scars, however you will probably be left with a discolored or white round spot where the mole used to be, and it will be the same size or larger than the mole. This may be more noticeable than a tiny scar. Laser mole removal can cost between $50 and $400 per session depending upon who performs the treatment. Laser mole removal is considered a cosmetic procedure and it is unlikely that your health insurance carrier will cover it.
Radiowave Mole Removal
In this method, low-temperature high-energy radio waves are used to destroy the cells of the mole. The doctor will apply a local anesthetic and then use a radio frequency device to cut the mole and surrounding tissue. The tissue will then be sent for biopsy. The heat from the device cauterizes the tissues as it goes through them, so no suturing is required and there is no bleeding. A scab should form and, after a few weeks, drop off to leave new skin in place of the mole. Radiowave mole removal prices range from $100 to $400 per mole.
Home Mole Removal Solutions
Your internet research may turn up a whole host of potential do-it-yourself remedies for removing your moles. Usually they require the application of some kind of substance to the mole, such as juice (cauliflower, pineapple), or crushed garlic paste, or baking soda and castor oil, or dandelion root, or vinegar and hot water. You may also find mole “self-removal kits”. These are usually comprised of caustic chemicals that may dissolve your mole but leave terrible scars behind. Obviously you would never want to risk trying one of these unproven methods if you think you may have a suspicious or malignant mole. Try these methods at your own risk.
Mole removal is generally very easy, very safe and very fast. As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of infection. Some patients may adversely react to anesthesia, although most mole removals are done with local anesthetic which lessens this risk. There may be some scarring but many scars will fade as time passes. The mole may grow back, which means you will have to have it removed again. And you may also have some redness, swelling or discomfort for a short period. When you consider that thousands of people die every year from neglected moles that turn into deadly melanoma, these side effects seem to be a minor price to pay.
Be sure to interview your doctors carefully. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons are all trained in mole removal but some have more experience than others. Do your research, get referrals from family and friends, and choose your doctor wisely. Now that you have seen all the mole removal options that are available to you, there is no good reason to avoid getting your moles taken care of as soon as possible. It could potentially save your life.