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Moles, also called nevi, are common skin growths that may or may not be a health risk. They are typically brown, but can also red, pink, black, tan, skin-colored or colorless. Moles are generally round and may be flat or slightly raised. Moles should not change in size or shape over time.

While most moles do not require medical attention, a dermatologist can remove a mole that the patient finds unattractive, that causes discomfort (i.e. rubs against clothing) or which looks suspicious. Suspicious moles could indicate cancer. Suspicious moles have one or more of the following traits:

Asymmetry. Moles should be symmetrical in shape. If one half of the mole is different from the other half, it signals a red flag.
Border. Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined borders. It should be easy to tell where the mole ends and regular skin begins.
Color. Color gradients or multiple colors within the mole indicate a potential malignancy.
Diameter. A mole that is larger than the size of a pencil eraser may be cause for concern. Evolving. Moles that change over time in size, shape or color are a warning sign.

If you have any concerns about a mole, see a dermatologist immediately.

How moles are treated

A dermatologist will remove a mole by surgical excision or shaving. This is typically done during an office visit.

Surgical excision. During an excision, the dermatologist uses a local anesthetic to numb the area, then cuts out the entire mole. The wound is then stitched closed.

Surgical shave. Local anesthetic is applied, then, using a blade, the doctor shaves the mole off of the skin. Stitches are not needed, but antibiotic cream and a sterile bandage are applied.

The removed tissue may be sent to a laboratory to be analyzed for signs of skin cancer.

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