Warts and Moles
La Jolla, California
Moles: What Are They?
You may notice that you have small, roundish colored markings at various points on your body; these are moles and are typically benign (not dangerous). Moles are skin growths (medically referred to as “lesions”) that can occur anywhere on your body. Their scientific name is “melanocytic nevi,” because they involve the growth of pigment cells which are known as melanocytes.
Your moles may be a variety of colors from flesh colored to pink to different shades of brown or black and typically require no treatment as they are generally not harmful. But it is possible for a mole to develop into a malignant melanoma or cancerous mole…more on what to beware of below.
Who Has Moles and What Do They Look Like?
Almost everyone has moles of some kind. You may have had several moles – known as congenital melanocytic nevi – since birth, and teenagers will often develop moles as they grow. Exposure to sunlight can increase your chance of developing moles, but some will typically fade away as you grow older. Your moles can take on a variety of appearances and may look nothing like the moles of other people you know. They can be flat or may protrude from your skin, and may be anywhere from flesh toned to brown or almost black. Most moles are circular or oval-shaped and can range from several millimeters to several centimeters in diameter.
Treating Your Existing Moles
Although most moles are harmless, you may feel that they are unsightly or have noticed that they have become rough or irritated, especially if they are in an area that is rubbed by clothing. For those that are protruding or uncomfortable, a shave biopsy may be an option you can choose. This procedure involves numbing the skin with local anesthetic and removing the protruding mole portion with a scalpel. This will typically leave a scar or mark which may be the same color as your original mole.
When Moles May be Dangerous
It is possible for a mole to present a danger to your health if it becomes atypical. An atypical mole is, for all practicality, a mole that is not typical of the average mole you see or may have lived with for a long time. An atypical (abnormal) mole may occur as a new growth on the skin or as part of an existing mole, and in some cases (atypical-nevus syndrome) hundreds of new moles can appear. These atypical moles can place you at risk for developing melanoma (skin cancer) and should always be monitored by a physician.
It is a good idea to do a monthly self-exam in order to see if any of your moles have grown or changed or to see if you have new ones that you did not have previously. If you notice that an existing mole has become asymmetrical (not the same on both halves), has fuzzy edges, is more than one color, is larger in diameter than 6 millimeters (size of a pencil eraser) or is changing rapidly, seeking the advice of a medical professional is recommended. Early detection is the key to successful treatment of cancerous moles.
Treatments for Atypical or Cancerous Moles
If your moles are suspect, Dr. McLeod may recommend an excisional biopsy, in which the moles and the full thickness of the skin under them are removed and analyzed. If cancerous cells are detected, a wide excision is recommended. Continued self-monitoring and assessments done on a regular basis by your provider are recommended in order to minimize further risk.
What Exactly Are Warts?
Warts are growths or “tumors” on your skin that are a result of the human pampillomavirus (HPV), which has over 100 known strains. You will often notice that warts will grow on elbows, knees, hands and typically present as a thickening of the top layer of skin resulting in a hard circular node or bump.
Why Do Warts Happen?
It is possible for almost anyone to contract a mild strain of HPV and have no idea where there might have been exposure (Warts may not occur until up to 12 months after the virus has taken hold). The most common ages for you to develop warts are between 12 and 16, and while HPV can be transmitted through intimate contact, it is rarely spread through the touching of an object that someone else with warts has handled. WebMD Video Link
Often, the virus will enter your body through a break in the skin, and you may transmit it to other parts of your body by touching a wart and then touching another area that has been injured or cut. In most cases, your warts will go away on their own in anywhere from a few months up to several years, with half being gone by the six month mark and 90 percent by the time 24 months have passed.
Those who have suppressed immune systems, such as those who have HIV, or have just undergone surgery are more prone to an HPV infection and therefore the emergence of warts.
Are Warts Contagious?
Yes. Since warts are caused by a virus, they can be “caught” by way of the virus. Avoid sharing personal products with someone who has warts and if you have warts yourself, don’t pick at them.
Different Wart Types
Your warts may fit into one of a number of categories depending on their appearance. Typically, they will have small black dots in their center as a result of thrombosed (clotted) blood vessels.
Various wart types include:
- Common Warts: If you have common warts, they will present as rough, thick skin with pink or white bumps on the hands, face and elbows.
- Filiform Warts: Filiform warts may occur on your body around the facial area and are long and narrow like small bits of thread.
- Flat Warts: These types of wart will appear on your face, hands or shins and are slightly raised and smooth. They will often occur in a line and can be caused by regular scratching or shaving.
- Plantar Warts: If you have plantar warts, you may notice rough and callus-like areas on the soles of your feet. Unlike most warts, these can be painful.
When to Have Warts Treated
Generally, warts will require no treatment and will disappear on their own, and not all treatments will guarantee they will disappear, as they cannot address the underlying virus. At-home treatments you can use include over-the-counter wart removers that have salicylic acid in them in order to dissolve the wart-affected skin layer. Duct tape over the wart may also work, although its mechanism of action is unknown.
More serious wart eruptions may require the destruction of your warts with cryosurgery (freezing) or the use of a chemo agent like imiquimod, which causes destruction of the wart.
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