What is mole removal?
In a mole removal procedure, your dermatologist shaves or cuts a mole to remove it from your skin. A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the skin. It’s generally a quick, outpatient procedure that allows your healthcare provider to test the mole for skin cancer. Some people also have moles removed for cosmetic reasons.
What is a mole?
Moles often appear in your childhood or teens and range in color from your natural skin tone to pink, brown or black. People with darker hair or skin tend to have darker moles than people with fairer hair or skin. Moles can be flat or raised from the surface of your skin. Your healthcare provider might refer to your mole as a nevus (“nee-vis”) or a group of moles as nevi (“neev-eye”).
It’s normal to have about 10–40 moles by the time you’re an adult. Some moles grow slowly and may lighten or disappear over time. Most moles are harmless, but you should see your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about the appearance of a mole, or if it changes color or shape, becomes itchy or bleeds.
Sometimes, moles are skin cancer or precancerous. If your mole is itchy, bleeds, isn’t round or oval, or you notice changes in its appearance, contact your healthcare provider.
Why is mole removal done?
Mole removal treats atypical moles anywhere on your face, neck, arms legs or torso. Your healthcare provider may recommend removal of an atypical mole so they can run a test (biopsy) to see if the growth is cancerous (malignant) or precancerous. And if your dermatologist is able to remove the mole and achieves good margins (the area around the mole), mole removal may serve as a curative treatment for skin cancer that hasn’t spread.
Your healthcare provider may also remove a mole if you’re unhappy with its location or appearance.
Who needs to have this treatment?
Most moles don’t require treatment. But you might want to have a mole removed if you’re unhappy with how it looks or feels. Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about a mole. Generally, moles are removed if your provider suspects they might be cancerous or for cosmetic reasons.
Atypical mole removal
Typical moles are round, flat or slightly raised, even in color and stay pretty much the same shape and size over time. But if your mole looks atypical (dysplastic), your healthcare provider might suggest removing it so they can run tests to determine if it’s cancer (malignant) or not cancer (benign).
Cosmetic mole removal
Whether you were born with a mole or it developed over time, you might not like how it looks or feels. If you have a mole that bothers you, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. Don’t attempt at-home mole removal. Getting a mole removed by a medical professional is safer and you’ll be happier with how you look after you heal.
What happens before this procedure?
Before a mole removal procedure, your healthcare provider inspects your skin. They may take pictures of your moles to compare against at a later date. They may also use a tool called a dermoscope to get a closer look at the mole and determine how to best remove it.
Your healthcare provider will mark the areas on your skin to be removed. Then, they’ll clean the area. You’ll receive numbing medicine (anesthetic). This might be applied on your skin (topically) or you may get an injection at the surgical site. Sometimes, you’ll get both.
How do dermatologists remove moles?
There are two main methods of mole removal: surgical excision and shave excision. As with all surgical procedures, there are risks and benefits to both types of mole removal procedures. Talk with your dermatologist about which method is right for you.
Excision is a very common technique for mole removal. After cleaning and numbing the area, your surgeon uses a scalpel to separate your mole from the rest of your skin. Depending on the type of mole, they’ll take a margin of healthy skin to ensure that all of the atypical cells are removed. Then, using forceps to grasp the segment, they lift the mole away. Bleeding is normal, and your surgeon may apply pressure to the area or burn (cauterize) it to stop the bleeding before stitching the area back together.
Another common technique for mole removal is shave excision. Your healthcare provider may be able to remove a mole by shaving rather than cutting. Shave excision can provide a sample of tissue for analysis, and people are generally pleased with the results after healing. But shave excision isn’t useful for looking at deep tumor margins, and can’t be used to distinguish between different types of skin cancer.
For shave excision mole removal, your healthcare provider uses a single or double-bladed razor to carefully shave the growth off to the level of the skin around it. They may lightly burn (cauterize) the area around the removed mole to improve the appearance of any scar after healing.
Moles removed by shave incision are somewhat more likely to come back than moles removed by surgical excision.
What about lasers or other possible methods of mole removal?
Although some healthcare providers have used lasers, electric current (cautery) or liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) to remove moles in the past, these techniques aren’t usually recommended. Using these methods means there’s no sample of your mole to study in order to identify what sort of mole it is. Additionally, moles are more likely to come back (recur) following these treatments. Sometimes, benign moles that come back after nonsurgical removal can have features of skin cancer.
What happens after this procedure?
After removing your mole, your healthcare provider will apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) to the area and cover it with a bandage. You should keep the area moist (with the jelly) for a few days and clean it daily.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of surgical mole removal?
The main benefit of having a mole removal procedure is that your healthcare provider can run tests to determine if the mole is skin cancer. If you need treatment for skin cancer beyond mole removal, you’ll be able to start it right away, which may reduce the chances that your cancer will spread (metastasize) to other body parts.
Additionally, many people who have mole removal procedures are happy with how they look after healing.
What are the risks or complications of this procedure?
When your dermatologist removes a mole in their office, it’s a low-risk procedure. But like all procedures, there are some risks. Risks of mole removal procedures include:
- Scars (that may or may not be noticeable).
- Nerve damage.
- The mole may come back (recur).
Recovery and Outlook
What is the recovery time?
Healing time depends on your overall health and the size of the mole you had removed. It’ll likely take two to three weeks to heal from mole removal. During this time, you’ll be able to do your daily activities, but may have a little soreness. To promote healing and prevent infection, you should follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about wound care.
Mole removal aftercare
Following mole removal, you’ll have a wound that you should keep clean, moist and covered. Be sure to change the dressing daily or as instructed by your healthcare provider. After you’ve healed, be sure to apply sunscreen to the area when it’s exposed.
When can I return to work/school?
Most mole removal surgeries are quick, outpatient procedures. You should be able to drive yourself home from the appointment and return to work/school immediately.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my healthcare provider about a mole?
Most moles are harmless and don’t need to be removed. But you should check your moles regularly and note any changes. Contact your healthcare provider if your mole:
- Is painful or itchy.
- Has discharge or bleeds.
- Grows or changes shape.
- Has irregular sides (not the same shape all around).
- Appear after you’re 30 years old.
When should I contact my dermatologist about my condition following mole removal?
After you have a mole removal procedure, watch the area closely to look for changes that might indicate that you’re having trouble healing. Call your dermatologist if:
- You have bleeding that doesn’t stop.
- You notice signs of infection, like redness or pus.
- You’re unhappy with how it looks after it heals.
- The mole grows back.
Does it hurt to have a mole removed?
Your healthcare provider will use numbing medications (anesthetic) to prevent pain during mole removal. Some mole removal procedures require only topical (on top of your skin) anesthetic, but your healthcare provider may also inject medications like lidocaine to reduce your discomfort. You may feel stinging or burning in the area for a few days after mole removal.
Can I remove a mole myself?
Don’t try to remove moles yourself. Even though you can buy products marketed as mole removal pens or lasers — or might be tempted to try to shave or cut your mole off yourself — you shouldn’t do it for a few important reasons.
- It might be cancerous.
- You might not get the whole mole.
- Home lasers can make the skin cells look like cancer even if they’re not.
- You risk infection.
- You might develop a significant scar.
Dermatologists are specially trained to perform skin surgeries like mole removal. They’ll do it safely, run diagnostic tests and you’ll be happier with your appearance after healing than if you’d attempted to remove it yourself.
Can you permanently remove moles?
Most moles removed by dermatologists are permanently removed. But some moles come back (recur). If you have a mole removed and it comes back after healing, contact your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mole removal is a quick and relatively easy procedure that your healthcare provider may recommend to safely remove suspicious moles. Mole removal can also be done for cosmetic reasons — just don’t do it at home! Your healthcare provider will clean and numb the area before shaving or cutting away the mole. After mole removal, you may have some stinging and burning for a few days. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for mole removal aftercare, and reach out if you have any concerning symptoms.
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