Moles On Each Location Of Your Body Explained

A mole (scientific name: nevus) is a growth on skin comprised of a cluster of skin pigment cells (aka melanocytes), according to Medline Plus. Moles can be flat or raised, but not all raised skin growths are moles. Some may be skin tags or seborrheic keratoses, for example, although it can be difficult for someone who is not trained in dermatology to know the difference (via WebMD).

The average adult has between 10 and 40 moles on their body in various locations. These can come in various colors — including red and blue, but most are brown, beige, or pink (via Healthline). Moles come in many sizes and shapes, with most being round or oval and having a diameter no larger than a pencil eraser (5 millimeters). Although some moles are present from birth, others develop over time. Some moles, however, fade with age. Moles are often found on parts of the body that receive sun exposure (via Medicine.net). Nevertheless, some moles are found on parts of the body that receive no sun exposure at all, like the genitals (via Mole Map).

In folklore, mole location has been seen as relevant to one's personality or fate. In modern medicine, the location of any mole on your body may be considered a factor in assessing your prognosis if a mole were to be, or become, cancerous (via WebMD). Let's take a look at what moles on each location of your body might really mean to your life and your health.

What it means when you have a mole on your foot

Since you probably spend a lot of time wearing shoes, you might not be all that aware of having a mole on your foot. But it is a good idea to examine your feet periodically for moles and other skin growths, according to Medical News Today.

In the case of a cancerous mole, your prognosis will be better the earlier you catch it. Specifically, melanoma, a type of skin cancer that develops in the skin's pigment cells (melanocytes), can spread to other parts of the body via the lymph system, making the cancer more challenging for doctors to treat (via American Cancer Society). 

Although melanoma accounts for only about 1% of all skin cancers, it does cause the highest number of deaths of all skin cancers combined, and 3 to 15% of all melanomas originate on the foot or ankle, according to a 2010 paper published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. Although foot melanoma typically appears on the sole of the foot, it can also appear under a toenail, explained Medical News Today. A melanoma occurring under a toenail or fingernail is known as a subungual melanoma and may appear in its early stages as an unexplained dark streak or spot (via U.S. Dermatology Partners). 

Moles on the scalp: How do they get there and what do they mean?

According to ancient Chinese astrology, having a mole anywhere on your scalp is considered auspicious, symbolizing "lifelong good luck envied by others" (via Your Chinese Astrology). But according to Western medicine, a mole on the scalp may be worrisome for the simple reason that, depending on where on the scalp it is located, it may be difficult for you to see and monitor any changes without the assistance of a friend, family member, or medical professional (via Healthline). Monitoring moles for changes is important because a change could be an early sign of melanoma (via Skin Cancer Foundation). 

Because moles are most often found on areas of the skin that tend to be exposed to the sun's rays, they are thankfully not usually found on the scalp, according to the National Cancer Institute. But it is possible to be born with a mole on the scalp, according to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and for parts of the scalp to be exposed to the sun. All moles should be monitored for changes every one to three months, according to dermatologist Jodi Ganz, who also pointed out to Piedmont that everyone should have at least a baseline dermatological exam to "map out" their existing moles and determine their level of skin cancer risk.

A mole here may not actually be a mole at all

A mole found on the penis is unlikely to be dangerous and may, in fact, not even be a mole, according to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice. If a skin growth on the penis is rounded and white or pink, for example, it is less likely to be a mole and more likely to be a "pearly penile papule," which is generally harmless, although only a medical professional can diagnose a growth for certain. 

Other skin growths that may appear on the penis include skin tags and sebaceous cysts, among others. Most are considered harmless, although occasionally what appears to be a mole on the penis may be the result of a sexually transmitted disease such as HPV (via Healthline). Like moles found on other locations of the body, a mole on the penis may be present from birth or may appear later. In either case, any change, including a change in size or color, or the presence of bleeding, warrants a consult with a medical professional.

A mole located on the vagina may indicate this

Skin growths on the vagina are more likely not to be moles, but rather skin tags, according to Healthline, presumably because it would be unusual to receive sun exposure on the vagina, even if one were to routinely sunbathe in the nude. Skin tags are always benign, but it is possible to mistake a mole for a skin tag, and a mole that resembles a skin tag can, like any mole located anywhere on the body, become cancerous. 

One may be born with a mole on or adjacent to the vulva. Alternately, a mole in this location of the body may develop spontaneously (via American Cancer Society). If a vulvar mole is or becomes cancerous, it will usually appear as black or dark brown, but other colors are also possible, including white, pink, and red. Most vulvar melanomas are found around the clitoris or the labia majora or minora.

Additionally, some vaginal growths that appear to be skin tags or moles can actually be genital warts, according to Healthline. Therefore, it's best to let a medical professional decide what any particular vulvar growth might be.

What it may mean if you have a mole anywhere on your hand

The hands  — whether the palm, fingers, or underneath the fingernails — are another location on the body where you might notice a mole, according to Beaumont. Just like a mole located anywhere else on the body, a mole on the hand can be completely benign or a symptom of skin cancer. The most commonly diagnosed skin cancer of the hand is squamous cell carcinoma, which, like a mole, can appear as a brown or tan skin lesion, but is likely to crust over, like a cut that hasn't yet healed, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand

The most serious concern when one has a mole on one's hand is whether it could be, or develop into, melanoma. However, a 2011 study published in Oncology Letters suggested that melanomas of the hand most often present on the thumb, and less often on each consecutive finger after that, including under the fingernails of each digit. Melanomas of the fingernails, which comprise about 1.4% of all melanoma diagnoses, can look more like bruising than a mole. But as with moles and skin changes located anywhere on the body, it's best to leave it to a medical professional to decide what any given skin lesion might be.

Here's the deal with moles located near the mouth

Moles that are located on the face, especially those on the cheek, near the lips, are often referred to as "beauty marks," thanks, in part, to Marilyn Monroe, Cindy Crawford, and Madonna popularizing the lip-adjacent mole. That said, some of the thanks may be owed to a preponderance of folklore that associates having a mole located on or near the lips as an auspicious attribute (via Your Chinese Astrology). In addition, the 1843 short story, "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne (in which a beautiful woman's demise was brought on by her husband's insistence on having said birthmark removed), may have contributed to the magical aura that appears to surround moles located here. 

From a scientific perspective, however, a facial mole is simply a mole on the face that was either present from birth or developed over time as a result of genetic predisposition, sun exposure, or some combination of the two, and the fact of the matter is that the more moles one has, the more likely one is to develop melanoma (via American Cancer Society). Nevertheless, facial moles, including those located on the lip itself, are no more likely to develop into melanoma than moles located elsewhere. A 2018 paper published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases suggested that, like all skin growths, those on the lips should be routinely monitored.

If you have a mole on your ear, here is what you should know

Moles can appear on the ear lobe, ear rim, and the skin outside the ear canal (via Verywell Health). What does it mean if you happen to have a mole on your ear? Well, like a mole anywhere else on the body, it can signify absolutely nothing more than a genetic predisposition to developing pigmented skin growths. But it might also signify something more sinister such as skin cancer, or specifically, melanoma. In fact, a mole located on the ear that is or becomes melanoma carries with it some unique risk, according to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Surgery.

"The external ear represents a site with high ultraviolet exposure and thin skin overlying cartilage," the study authors wrote, suggesting that the skin of the ear is at particular risk for the development of ultraviolet-induced cellular changes. Additionally, ear melanomas may have a slightly higher rate of recurrence due to imprecision at the time of diagnosis, surgical excision, and initial cancer staging.

A mole in the eye? This is what that's all about

A "mole" in or on the eye is often referred to as an "eye freckle" or, if you're in the science world, an eye "nevus," according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Eye nevi are actually quite a bit more common than you might realize. Like moles located elsewhere on your body, they are made up of skin pigment cells. They can be present at birth, or they can develop over the course of one's life. Also, like moles located elsewhere on your body, a nevus in the eye should be watched for changes because it can become cancerous over time. However, a non-congenital eye mole is at a higher risk of becoming cancerous, according to the AAO, presumably because it reflects damage done by the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Nevi can appear anywhere on the eye, including the white, the colored iris, and the retina (inside the eye, at the back). A retinal mole is known as a "choroidal nevus." Your ophthalmologist is trained to identify choroidal nevi and can determine whether one in your eye is raised, orange in color, or leaking fluid, all of which could be a sign of choroidal melanoma. When an eye mole turns out to be cancerous, doctors will often recommend aggressive treatment because of the proximity to many lymph nodes, which offer access to distant organs (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Should you be concerned about a mole on your neck?

A benign mole anywhere on the body is still a benign mole. The issue is if it begins to develop into melanoma, which is possible for any pigmented growth of the skin because such growths arise from melanocytes, which give the skin its pigment. And melanoma begins as an abnormal growth of melanocytes (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). That being said, 75% of all melanomas are found before they've had a chance to spread through the lymph and vascular systems. Melanomas that have not yet spread are, of course, easier to treat. And a mole that is visible on the neck is easier to self-monitor than one in a less visually accessible location on the body.

Still, a melanoma found on the neck (or anywhere on the head or neck) is statistically more likely to spread to distant organs than melanomas originating elsewhere on the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. However, melanomas of the head and neck are "uniquely influenced" by the location of the primary lesion, which is usually (but, unfortunately, not always) the mole that you can see on the skin, according to one older study published in Cancer. If a mole on the neck is diagnosed as melanoma, the prognosis is somewhat more favorable than moles on the ear and scalp that end up being diagnosed as melanoma. 

Moles on the leg differ depending on where on the limb they are located

"The anatomic location of a primary malignant melanoma has prognostic significance," according to a 2000 study published by the American Cancer Society, with "primary lesions of the lower extremity" being "generally associated with a more favorable prognosis" than primary lesions of the head, neck, or torso. That means that if you have a mole (or moles) on your leg (or legs), and you begin to observe changes in the shape, color, size, et cetera, getting prompt medical attention may mean the difference between a minor surgery to remove and biopsy the mole and extensive systemic treatment for melanoma. In addition, it turns out that where a mole is located on the leg may also impact your prognosis. 

As the ACS pointed out that "several retrospective studies have suggested that melanoma on the foot portends poor survival" as compared with melanoma originating somewhere higher on the leg, including the thigh. Although that might seem counterintuitive when you consider that the foot is much further away from the torso, where most of your vital organs are located, this might be explained by the fact that melanoma that originates under the toenail is associated with a worse prognosis than other forms of melanoma. 

What it means when mole reappears after removal

Some people have moles removed for cosmetic reasons, as opposed to health reasons. In either case, a mole that has been removed could turn up again in precisely the same spot, according to the medical professionals at Perri Dermatology. At the time a mole is removed from the skin for any reason, it will be sent for a biopsy, as a matter of course (via MD Anderson Cancer Center).

If the pathologist performing the biopsy observes any abnormal cellular characteristics or behavior — even if the mole was removed solely for cosmetic purposes — more skin will be removed in order to obtain what doctors refer to as clean margins (via NYU Langone Medical Center). Once a mole has been excised with clean margins, it is highly unlikely to grow back because all of the pigment cells that gave rise to the mole will have been removed entirely. However, it is nevertheless possible for regrowth. 

The fact that a mole — even one that turned out to be suspicious or malignant — returns does not mean it is cancerous, according to Perri Dermatology. But it could. Therefore, if a mole reappears where it was previously removed, it is best to have it looked at by the doctor who performed the excision. 

The case of the disappearing mole

Dermatologists typically offer a mnemonic device to remember what to look for as danger signs when you examine your moles: ABCDE (via Skin Cancer Foundation). A is for asymmetry (an asymmetrical mole is more likely to be abnormal). B is for border (uneven or blurred borders can be a sign of melanoma). C is for color (multiple colors and changes in color can signify melanoma). D is for diameter (if it's larger than a pencil eraser, that is cause for concern). And lastly, E is for evolving (any change at all may be a warning sign of melanoma). What isn't so obvious is the fact that sometimes these signs are observed in reverse, as in, a mole that is shrinking or disappearing. 

"Moles can and do disappear," according to Medical News Today. Although a disappearing mole is not necessarily cause for concern, it can indicate that the immune system has perceived the mole as a threat and is doing what it can to eradicate it (via Healthline). Both benign moles and cancerous moles can disappear. And if a mole was cancerous, its disappearance does not mean that the cancer is gone (via Medical News Today). The bottom line is that a disappearing mole is a changing mole, and a changing mole is reason enough to see a dermatologist.