When a new mole appears, or a previously stable mole begins changing, this could be an early warning sign of cancer. But what about when a mole disappears?

Moles sometimes fade or disappear, especially as people get older. This is not usually a cause for concern.

However, cancerous moles can also shrink or disappear. Sometimes this happens when skin cancer is present and has already spread to other areas.

In this article, learn more about disappearing moles and when to see a doctor.

A mole is a collection of melanocytes, the cells that give skin its pigment. Moles are a type of melanocytic nevi, pigmented areas on the skin. Other types of pigmented lesions include freckles, also known as ephelides, solar lentigo, and nevi that appear on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Some melanocytic nevi are cancerous. They look like a mole but form when melanocytes become malignant. Existing moles can become cancerous, but 70% of skin cancer does not develop from an existing mole.

Moles can change over time, and some disappear altogether. When healthy moles disappear, the process is typically gradual.

Other changes that may occur include:

  • hair growing out of a mole
  • the mole changing shape and size
  • the mole becoming raised
  • the mole becoming darker or lighter

In most cases, a mole that vanishes is not cancerous. In some cases, however, cancerous skin lesions disappear after cancer has spread to another part of the body.

In one case study, a person had several lesions that vanished over 2 months, leaving areas of hypopigmentation, or lighter skin. Further investigation found that cancer had spread to the lungs and other areas.

For this reason, a person should seek medical advice if they have concerns about changes to any mole.

The following images show some examples of disappearing moles.

The main reason why noncancerous moles fade and disappear is age. As people get older, their moles often fade.

Freckles also tend to fade when a person has less exposure to sunlight, for example, in the winter months. This is because they result from UV stimulation. Lentigo, while they result from UV exposure, do not fade when a person is out of the sunlight.

If a mole disappears in a younger person, it may be due to an autoimmune condition or pigmentation disorder.

Halo nevi

Halo nevi are moles that develop a white ring around them, like a halo. The center of the mole is dark brown but becomes lighter in time as the skin loses pigment.

Finally, it may disappear completely, leaving a pale area where the mole was and possibly in the surrounding area.

The depigmentation and ring of lighter color will be similar whether a person has a light or dark skin tone.

Experts believe halo nevi occur when T-cells in the body try to destroy the mole as part of an immune response. It is unclear why this happens.

Halo nevi affect around 1% of people with light skin tones but can occur on any skin type and at any age. They may be more common in people with autoimmune disorders and conditions that affect pigmentation, such as vitiligo. Sunburn may also trigger them.

Halo nevi are not skin cancer, but some experts believe that adults who experience these changes may have a slightly higher risk of melanoma. They recommend seeking medical advice if these occur.

Sometimes, a cancerous lesion will shrink or disappear in a process that doctors call regression.

Statistics suggest regression occurs in 10–35% of all melanomas and up to 58% of melanomas that are less than one millimeter thick.

It is rare for a cancerous lesion to disappear completely. If it does, it usually happens after cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Very rarely, the disappearance of the lesion may mean there is no more cancer.

Often, a cancerous lesion that disappears will first become slightly darker. After this, depigmentation will occur, leaving an area that is blue, pink, white, or gray.

A person may also notice:

  • uneven pigmentation
  • changes in the appearance of blood vessels
  • remnants of papules
  • white bands across the area

Regression may happen as the immune system fights back against cancer. Doctors have noticed a similar effect when people take immunotherapy drugs to treat skin cancer.

Anyone who has an unusual mole that shrinks or disappears should see a doctor.

What does skin cancer look like on darker skin?

What does melanoma look like on darker skin?

It is not possible to confirm if a mole is cancerous or not just by looking at it. However, a person should seek medical advice if they notice the following characteristics:

  • The mole shows one of the ABCDE alphabet signs of cancer:
    • Asymmetric: Is the shape asymmetrical?
    • Border: Is the border irregular and uneven?
    • Coloring: Does a black or brown lesion have red, white, or blue tones?
    • Diameter: Is it larger than a quarter-inch?
    • Elevated: Is the surface raised?
  • The mole is itchy, bleeding, or ulcerated.
  • Other symptoms suggest cancer in other parts of the body.

However, many unusual or irregular-looking moles are not cancerous.

Is it a mole or skin cancer?

A person should see a doctor if they notice a new or existing mole that:

  • has the ABCDE features (see above)
  • changes shape
  • changes color or has more than two colors
  • becomes itchy or flaky
  • is bleeding
  • becomes bigger or more raised

Regular skin checks can help a person identify new lesions or changes in existing moles, including any on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.

Taking photos of moles can help monitor any changes.

When should I worry about a new mole?

Moles often disappear, especially as people get older. However, cancerous lesions can also fade, but this does not mean the cancer is gone. Anyone who has concerns about moles or other skin changes should seek medical advice.

If skin cancer is present, a doctor may recommend removing the mole. Melanoma skin cancer is highly treatable in the early stages.

If a person receives a diagnosis before melanoma spreads to other parts of the body, they are 99% as likely as those without melanoma to survive another 5 years or more.