1/22/12

Are Purple Moles Normal or Possible Melanoma?

Find out if purple in a mole or the entire spot can be a sign of melanoma. “The color of a mole may vary within normal ranges, and purple color may not necessarily mean harmful or harmless mole,” says Maria M. Tsoukas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dermatology Section, University of Chicago.
Has your purple mole always been this way, or has it changed from its usual color? My mother noticed a purple mole on the back of my father’s neck and wanted him to have it checked. 

She didn’t know if it had always been there; that was the problem. Ultimately, a dermatologist looked at it and said it appeared benign. No biopsy was taken. My father found this acceptable, though I would have wanted the biopsy of this purple mole, to be 100 percent certain.

“The colors that we see are based on optics in human skin with regards to structures existing under our skin,” says Dr. Tsoukas. “As a general rule, red hue is due to vascular network lying in the top layers of our skin. Pigmented cells located deep in our skin may cause a bluish appearance. In examination of moles we are also using, along with clinical observation, dermoscopy where we have now established certain patterns of moles. However, confirmation is obtained by biopsy of mole and examination under microscope.”

A change in a mole’s color, whether it’s purple or a new shade of brown, is to be taken seriously. Melanoma has been known to come in these colors: black, grey, any shade of brown or tan, purple, blue, red, flesh and white.

“Therefore, color of mole cannot confirm with regards to benign or malignant growth,” says Dr. Tsoukas. When in doubt regarding the history of any spot on your skin, see a dermatologist. Ask for a biopsy.

Finally, what appears to be a purple mole may actually be a benign skin barnacle called a seborrheic keratosis, and these can change in appearance. “That’s why you need to seek medical advice to confirm,” adds Dr. Tsoukas.

Melanoma kills about 10,000 people in the U.S. every year, but is very curable when caught in its earliest stages. Monthly self-skin exams are crucial for early detection of melanoma, which can develop anywhere on the body, including areas that don’t get much sun.

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