The Link Between Moles and Melanoma

Melanoma patients had fewer moles, not more

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Melanoma and skin moles have long been associated. But there's some new information.

A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston found that most patients with melanoma actually had few moles. Previously, medical experts had thought the total number of moles and the presence of atypical (unusual) moles were indicators of melanoma risk.

This study was led by Alan C. Geller, MPH, RN. Geller is a senior lecturer in social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Past research has suggested that patients with more moles or with atypical moles may be at higher risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma is a potentially deadly skin cancer that may be associated with excess sun exposure. Sometimes, melanoma will actually begin in the area of an atypical mole.

Atypical moles have a different appearance than “normal” moles. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that an atypical mole might be darker or have irregular borders and color variations.

For this study, Geller and colleagues studied 566 patients who had been diagnosed with melanoma. They looked at the total number of moles each patient had. In addition, the researchers studied whether the moles were typical or atypical and how thick the melanoma tumor was.

More than 66 percent of the study patients had 20 or fewer moles — some patients had none. More than 73 percent of the study participants had no atypical moles.

Patients younger than 60 with fewer than 50 moles were less likely to have thick melanomas, these researchers found. The thickness of a melanoma indicates how far it has grown into the skin.

Patients under 60 who had more than five atypical moles were more likely to have thicker melanoma than those with no atypical moles.

The take-home message from this study? Geller and team said people who don't have many moles should not become complacent about melanoma risk.

This study was published in the March issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Merck and Co., Inc, provided financial support for the study to Geller and Dr. Susan Swetter, a co-author. Co-author Arthur J. Sober, MD, disclosed that he owned stock in several pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Co., Inc.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 3, 2016
Last Updated:
March 4, 2016