Moles are small growths on the skin. Most moles are safe and will not cause harm. Learn about different types of moles and how to know when a mole is safe, and how to check your child’s moles every month for signs of skin cancer.

What is a Mole?

A mole is a small, often brown growth on the skin. Moles can be big or small. They can be different colors, like brown, black, red, pink, blue or gray. Moles can also be flat or raised. A mole is called a nevus. More than 1 mole are called nevi.

What Causes Moles?

Moles are caused by groups of skin cells called melanocytes. The number of moles on the body is related to genetics (passed down from one family member to the next) and being out in the sun.

Can My Child Have Moles Removed?

Yes, but most moles do not need to be removed. Removal involves a small surgery. Your child will have a scar after removing the mole. Talk with your child’s dermatologist (skin doctor) if you want to ask about removing the mole.

What are the Different Types of Moles?

  • Benign nevi (moles)
    Benign nevi are normal moles. They are not a sign of melanoma, or skin cancer. Benign nevi have a very low chance of turning into skin cancer.
  • Dysplastic nevi
    Dysplastic nevi are also called atypical nevi. Dysplastic nevi may have edges that are not perfectly round. They can be many colors. They can also be flat or raised. Dysplastic nevi have a low chance of turning into skin cancer.
  • Congenital nevi
    Congenital nevi are moles that your child was born with or developed soon after birth. If your child has many congenital nevi or a large congenital nevus, he has a slightly higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life. A dermatologist will tell you how often your child should have her moles checked.

How Do I Check My Child's Moles?

  • Remember the ABCDE’s of checking moles. Sometimes, moles on children look different from moles on adults.
    If you child has any of these signs, call Pediatric Dermatology at 617-643-6633.
    • Asymmetry
      Asymmetry is when the mole's shape or color does not match on both sides.
    • Border
      The border, or edges, of the mole are not even.
    • Color
      The mole is a different color, has more than 1 color, or is black.
    • Diameter
      The diameter is how wide the mole is. If the mole is wider than a pencil eraser, call Pediatric Dermatology.
    • Evolving
      When something is evolving, it means it is changing. If your child’s mole changes very fast or changes color, shape or size, call Pediatric Dermatology and request an urgent appointment.
  • Check your child’s moles for bleeding or oozing. Call Pediatric Dermatology if your child’s mole bleeds or oozes.
  • Check your child’s skin for new and current moles or skin changes once (1 time) every month. Look closely at the skin all over your child’s body. This includes the scalp, on bottom of the feet and between the fingers, toes, and buttocks.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

  • If your child has any signs from the ABCDE list.
  • If the mole starts to bleed or ooze.
  • If the mole “looks funny” or does not look right.

Did You Know...?

You can develop benign nevi (harmless moles) at any time. It is normal for people to develop new moles until age 40. It is also normal for some moles to disappear.

Moles can grow as your child grows. If your child’s mole is growing slowly and does not change shape or color, the mole is usually normal.

Rev. 5/2017. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.