Moles and warts are two types of growths commonly found on the skin. Moles grow from cells called melanocytes, which give your skin its color. Warts are caused by the presence of a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Although both types of growths are typically harmless, they may indicate the presence of harmful skin changes.
Most people have a least a few moles, and some people have a far greater number, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. They typically arise during childhood or adolescence, but you may also develop new moles at any later stage of life. Your moles may be as small as tiny dots, or grow to more than an inch in diameter. Their appearance varies significantly, and you may have moles that rise above your skin or stay relatively flat, with a texture that is either rough or smooth. Most moles have a brown or dark color, although some may appear yellowish, red or flesh-colored.
Warts come in a number of forms, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. Common warts typically arise on your hands, while plantar warts arise on the soles of your feet. Flat warts most commonly appear on the foreheads and faces of young children. Periungual and subungual warts can arise near or under your toenails or fingernails. Genital warts may arise on your genitals, between your thighs and inside your anal canal or vagina. In most cases, warts have a rough texture and appear as raised oval or round skin protrusions. In color, they can vary from light to dark to black.
In certain cases, the skin cancer called melanoma can begin in the cells near or inside a mole, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Some types of moles have a relatively high association with skin cancer, including moles that are present at birth and unusually large moles with irregular borders. You may also have an increased risk of developing melanoma if you have more than 50 to 100 regular moles, the AAD notes. The Merck Manuals list signs of developing melanoma in a mole that include pain, inflammation, bleeding, darkening and mole enlargement.
Typically, common warts will not cause discomfort unless they form in areas where rubbing or friction can occur, Medline Plus explains. If you have plantar warts, however, you may experience pain or walking difficulties. Genital warts can spread through sexual contact, and in some cases can lead to the development of cancer in your vulva or cervix. Medline Plus recommends a testing procedure called a Pap smear for women with genital warts or with partners who have had genital warts.
You can have a potentially cancerous mole removed through surgery, the AAD reports. Warts frequently disappear without treatment, Medline Plus says, but you may also remove them with over-the-counter medications. If you have warts on your genitals or face, consult your doctor for appropriate treatment options.