When a new mole appears, or a previously stable mole begins changing, this could be an early warning sign of cancer. What about when a mole disappears?
Moles can and do disappear, and a disappearing mole is not often a cause for concern.
However, cancerous moles can also suddenly disappear. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it will remain even when the mole is gone. Learn more about disappearing moles and when to see a doctor.
A mole is a collection of melanocytes, which are the cells that give the skin its pigment. They can change and evolve over time. Some moles eventually fall off altogether. When healthy moles disappear, the process is typically gradual.
A disappearing mole may begin as a flat spot, gradually become raised, then get light, pale, and eventually disappear.
A mole can disappear for many reasons, and it is not possible to determine the reason based solely on how the mole looked or when it vanished.
Some people develop several moles that disappear or notice that their moles get darker or lighter with time. Regular skin checks can help a person become more familiar with their skin.
The most common reasons a mole disappears include:
Some moles change due to hormonal shifts, especially during pregnancy. Very light moles may get darker then lighten again, which can make it seem like the mole disappeared.
Natural mole evolution
Moles often change with time. This can be confusing, since changes in a mole may also be a sign of cancer. However, it is quite normal for moles to lighten over time or to disappear completely.
However, anyone who notices any changes in a mole should report it to a doctor, who can diagnose any problems. A doctor can determine whether the changes are part of the mole’s natural evolution, or whether they need to be investigated further.
Growth is not a mole
Some skin growths look or feel like moles but are actually something else. If the mole is somewhere on the body that is hard to see, such as on the back, a person might not get a close look at it.
Some growths that can resemble moles but may disappear, include:
- skin tags, which are small flaps of skin that sometimes vanish on their own
- cysts and pimples, especially if the cyst is hard and lasts for many weeks
- warts, which can be bumpy and discolored, making them look like moles
- rashes, skin injuries, and other temporary skin changes
Trauma or injury
An injury can change the way a mole looks, or even cause it to disappear completely. For example, a burn to the area surrounding a flat mole may damage the skin so that the mole is no longer visible.
Raised moles may be accidentally torn off. The area may bleed and scar, or even become infected. When a mole is torn off, it may be temporarily less visible.
However, the melanocytes that initially caused the mole will still be present after an injury and may cause the mole to regrow.
Over time, some cancerous moles may disappear. If the cancer has spread in a process called metastasis to other areas of the body, the cancer is still present in the body even if the mole has disappeared.
When cancer attacks the body, the body’s immune system fights back. The immune system may be able to reduce the size of a cancerous mole. In some cases, the mole may disappear altogether. This process is called regression and occurs in 10-20 percent of all melanomas.
In people whose cancer has not metastasized to other areas of the body, this regression may completely cure the cancer.
However, when the cancer spreads to other regions of the body, the disappearance of a mole does not mean cancer has disappeared elsewhere in the body.
A 2016 study details the case of a man with melanoma whose visible mole disappeared. The man’s cancer had spread to other areas of the body and, although the source of the cancer had disappeared, unfortunately, the man died of complications due to cancer that had spread to his brain.
The same study notes that the disappearance of a cancerous mole is extremely rare. Researchers have published only 76 case studies of the topic since 1866.
It is impossible to determine whether a mole is cancerous based on its appearance alone. Many unusual or irregular-looking moles are not cancerous.
People concerned about their moles should look for the following signs of skin cancer:
- The mole looks different from other moles, particularly nearby moles.
- The mole shows one of the ABCD alphabet signs of cancer:
- Asymmetric in shape
- Border is irregular and uneven
- Coloring is unusual
- Diameter is larger than a pencil eraser
- The mole changes rapidly.
A doctor should always examine any changes in a mole, including color changes or disappearance. Most moles are harmless, even if they change or disappear, but it is advised to see a doctor to rule out other health problems.
People with a lot of moles should perform regular skin checks. People should be familiar with their skin and the location and qualities of their moles.
It can be helpful to take pictures of moles, especially if they are difficult to examine regularly, such as those on a person’s back. Photographs make it possible to detect changes in a potentially cancerous mole.