Dear Alice,

Over the span of the last couple of years I have noticed a significant number of moles appearing on my body. They have been appearing everywhere from my neck to my inner thighs. I had one on my neck since childhood but now have so many more. Is this normal? Is it something I should be concerned with? And does child bearing have any revelance to this happening?

Dear Reader,

The sudden appearance of moles where they weren't before can certainly provoke anxiety. Luckily most moles are harmless. Puberty and pregnancy are two times in a person's life when moles may appear in an unexplained (and perhaps unwelcome) fashion. Only if the moles in question exhibit some signs of concern would it be cause for medical attention.

The majority of moles and other unclassifiable blemishes are benign, or non-cancerous. The mapping of moles around our bodies is determined before we're born by the distribution of melanin in each of our body's skin cells. Most moles appear during the first 20 years of life, but during the teenage years and during pregnancy moles can get darker and/or new moles may appear. While they may be annoying to some people, most moles do not pose any health risk.

Spots or moles that warrant medical attention are those that appear to have changing characteristics, such as changing colors, bleeding, itching, or becoming painful. As a general rule, following the "ABCs" for moles will help you discern whether to take further action. Here are the five characteristics of moles to watch out for:

Asymmetry: If one half of the moles is unlike the other half in shape or color.

Border: If the mole has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border on its edges.

Color: If the mole varies in color from one area to another, or has shades of tan, brown, and black, or even white, red, or blue. Most moles are brown and uniformly a darker shade then your natural skin tone.

Diameter: If the diameter is greater than 6mm, or about the size of a pencil eraser. The larger the mole (especially if it's growing fast), the greater the cause for concern.

Evolving: If a mole or skin lesion looks different from the others on your body, or is changing in size, shape, or color.

Checking on your moles regularly is the best way to make sure they won't cause a problem later on. Exposure to the sun can also affect the intensity of freckles and the appearance of moles. The proper use of sunscreen is a good tip for everyone. If you have fair skin, it is a good idea to avoid the sun at peak times, use stronger sunscreen, and cover your skin with breathable fabrics if you need to be in the intense sun. For more information about new moles and moles in general, check out the Moles page at the Cleveland Clinic. And of course, if your concern persists or you notice any of the ABCDE events happening, it may be useful to consult your health care provider. Columbia students can make an appointment with Primary Care Medical Services, who can refer you to a dermatologist if necessary, via Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284.

Lastly, cosmetic removal of moles is a fairly easy and common procedure, and could be an option if the mole population reaches a level of annoyance. In terms of harm to your health, keeping a keen eye on your ABCDEs may help put your mind at ease about this recent spotty development. Alice!

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