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Education Library: Pediatrics - Moles

Introduction

Moles are dark spots on the skin. Babies can be born with moles. Moles also appear over time. Heredity and spending time in the sun may influence the amount of moles that your child has.

Some people have moles removed because they are bothered by the way they look. In other cases, moles are removed because they appear precancerous or cancerous. Your child should have a doctor perform a full body mole check. Your doctor can remove moles in his or her office.

Anatomy

Skin covers the body and protects it from the environment. Skin is composed of three major layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin. It protects the inner skin layers. The epidermis is made up of protein containing cells called keratinocytes, also referred to as squamous cells. The keratinocytes form at the bottom layer of the epidermis and move upward to the outer layer. They eventually wear off and are replaced by the next layer of cells. The epidermis also contains melanocytes. This type of cell contains color pigments called melanin. The lowest layer of the epidermis is composed of basal cells.

The dermis is the second layer of skin. It is made up of connective tissue and provides structure. It is composed of collagen and various elements that give the skin strength and elasticity. The dermis contains hair cells, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands that secrete oils to hydrate the skin.

Subcutaneous tissue composes the inner most layer of skin. Subcutaneous tissue contains fat cells. The fat cells insulate the body and make the skin appear plump and full. Below the subcutaneous tissue are fat tissues, muscles, and bones.

Causes

Moles are dark spots that appear on the skin. Your child may have been born with moles or developed them over time. Most moles are harmless. However, some moles can undergo changes and become precancerous or turn into skin cancer.

Sunlight exposure plays a role in mole development and changes. There appears to be a hereditary component as well. If your child’s close family members had abnormal moles, your child has an increased risk also.

Symptoms

Moles appear as small dark spots on the skin. They can differ in size, color, and shape. Moles can be raised or flat. They can contain hair. Your child may have more moles in areas that are exposed to the sun.

You should look for any changes in your child’s moles, especially moles that are dark or flat. Changes in moles may be a sign of pre-skin cancer or skin cancer. Look for changes in size and color. Look at the borders to see if they are regular. Both halves of the mole should have the same shape. Contact your doctor if your child experiences a change in a mole.

Diagnosis

You should have your doctor perform a full body mole inspection of your child. Your doctor can determine if your child’s moles are healthy or if they are precancerous or cancerous by looking at them and possibly performing a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing the mole or a section of the mole for examination. You should tell your doctor about any changes in your child’s moles or moles that bother your child. Your doctor can discuss mole removal options for cosmetic purposes as well.

Treatment

Your child’s moles can be removed in a quick procedure in your doctor’s office. Moles can be surgically removed. Raised moles are surgically shaved to the same level as the skin. Moles can also be removed by heat, in a method caused cauterization. Depending on the removal method, stitches may be necessary to close the wound. In other cases, your doctor will apply antibiotic ointment and cover the wound.

Prevention

You may be able to prevent the appearance of moles by limiting the amount of time that your child is exposed to the sun. People with fair skin (Caucasians) are especially vulnerable to skin cancer caused by sun exposure. If your child spends time in the sun, make sure that your child wears a sunblock that blocks both ultraviolet A and B sunrays. Perform regular mole examinations and have your doctor perform a full body mole check of your child.

Am I at Risk?

Is My Child at Risk?

Risk factors may increase your child’s likelihood of developing moles, although some people that develop them do not have any risk factors. People with all of the risk factors may never develop moles; however, the chance of developing moles increases with the more risk factors your child has. You should tell your doctor about your child’s risk factors and discuss your concerns.

Risk factors for moles:

  • Moles appear to have an inherited factor. If your child’s close family members have moles your child has an increased likelihood of developing them.
  • Sunlight exposure appears to play a role in mole development. Sunlight can also contribute to precancerous or cancerous changes in moles. People that spend a lot of time outdoors, such as construction workers, lifeguards, and recreational enthusiasts tend to develop more skin changes than people that do not spend large amounts of time in the sun.

Complications

Scarring after mole removal is common. If your child is having a mole removed for cosmetic reasons, your doctor may be able to tell you about the type of scarring that may occur before you make your decision. Some people simply chose to cover their moles with make-up.

In some cases, moles can undergo changes and turn into skin cancer. You should perform regular mole checks and have your child’s doctor perform a full body mole check. Skin cancer can be life threatening. Skin cancer that is detected and treated early has the best prognosis.

Advancements

Researchers are studying sun protection products to reduce the incidence of skin cancer. Such products include lotions and pills. Researchers are also examining surgical alternatives for treating skin cancer, such as medicated lotions that destroy cancer cells and microsurgery to safely remove all potentially cancerous tissue.

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