DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am troubled with moles on my body, even my back and tummy. Many years ago I had a mole removed, and it was cancerous. I am 88 years old and am still getting them. What causes moles, and why do I get so many? – J.L.

ANSWER: Moles are clumps of pigment-containing cells, and everyone gets them. The average person has up to 40 moles by age 25. Then their number begins to decline, and by age 90 few, if any, can be found.

Sunlight has a hand in mole development and growth, so avoidance of prolonged sun exposure and the liberal use of sunblock can diminish the number of moles. Sunlight, however, is not the sole cause, for moles grow on skin where little sunlight ever shines.

The scare moles give everyone is the question of the black spot being a melanoma, the most lethal kind of skin cancer. Distinguishing between a mole and a melanoma is of great importance. Moles are symmetrical. In your mind, you can fold a mole in half, and one half completely covers the other half. Melanomas are irregularly shaped. Moles have a smooth border; melanomas, a jagged one. Moles are of uniform color, but the black or brown background of a melanoma is interspersed with other colors – reds, whites or blues. Moles are no bigger than the size of a pencil’s eraser. Mature melanomas are larger.

Your story is troubling. You should not be forming new moles at your age. Furthermore, you have had one melanoma, which puts you at risk of having another. You might have dysplastic nevus syndrome. “Nevus” is the medical term for a mole.

You should be seeing a dermatologist on a regular basis. The dermatologist can determine whether you have this syndrome and whether any of your moles are really melanomas. Early recognition of a melanoma and treatment for it all but assures a cure.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My closest friend died a week ago and was cremated. I asked if arrangements had been made to donate any of his organs and was told none had because he was 77.

I called the California Transplant Donor Network, 1-800-553-6667, and was told that various organs from a senior can be used. Please print this information so that people can arrange organ donation well before they die. – F.O.

Your letter deserves to be printed in capital letters. More than 70,000 Americans and Canadians await organ transplantation, but only 12,000 organs are available yearly. Many die waiting for an organ.

Age is not a disqualification for donation. A person’s health and the condition of the organs determine suitability for transplantation.

If people cannot obtain donor information from the writer’s 800 number, they can contact local hospitals for information from the organ procurement coordinator, or they can contact their state department of health or their state medical society.

It is important that donors inform their relatives of their desire to donate organs. At the time of death, the next of kin is asked to sign a consent form for donation, and that person might not realize that the deceased wanted his or her organs donated. Most states provide donation cards that are issued with a driver’s license. That removes any ambiguity about the deceased’s desires.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have started to eat carrots, and my doctor said it was healthy for me. After reading about the guy whose skin turned orange from eating carrots, I have gotten worried. How many carrots does it take to do that? I eat about four or five every day. – T.P.

The orange tint that some carrot eaters get is called carotenemia, and it comes from the pigment carotene found in these vegetables. It’s a subdued color, and most people don’t notice it. It does not cause any harm. After a brief, carrot-free period the color vanishes.

I can’t give you a definite number. It depends on body size, among other things. If your four or five carrots have not caused it yet, they are unlikely ever to cause it.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.