Doctor, doctor: On hairy moles and furry tongues | Dr Tom Smith | Medical advice

Why do doctors no longer take any notice of the colour of the tongue? When I was a child, my doctor routinely looked at my tongue to check that I was healthy, whereas my current doctor says this is not important. My tongue is always covered with a soft, white fur – it isn't painful, but I do wonder what it might be? Should I try to scrape it off or just leave it well alone?
Tongue examination was thought to be important in Victorian times, when doctors knew very little about the true causes of disease – they believed its appearance reflected what was going on inside. Thankfully, we have better ways of checking on general health now. We still look at the tongue to check for specific problems in the mouth, but it hasn't turned out to be the instant signpost of general illness our forefathers thought it was. As for the white fur on yours, it may just be a sign of a benign fungal or bacterial infection, in which case you may be told that it isn't a problem needing treatment or a sign of some internal disease. So use a scraper by all means.

If you pull hairs out of moles, does it aggravate them enough to make them go cancerous? My boyfriend has a mole on his shoulder and I've tweezered a hair out of it a few times – although the mole hasn't changed colour, size or shape, it has gone a bit flaky. Now he's worried that this isn't good for the mole and that it may have turned cancerous. I know many people believe this theory to be true – can you clarify matters, please, and hopefully put my boyfriend's mind at rest?
First things first, there is neither evidence nor rationale behind the idea that pulling hairs out of "moles" can initiate a cancerous change in them. Hairy pigmented areas are very unlikely to turn cancerous. That said, it may be an idea for your boyfriend to explore the possibility of having his mole removed altogether – this is usually a very simple procedure. He should make an appointment with his doctor for he or she to have a look at it, and, if your boyfriend wants, then to make arrangements for its removal. After all, that will reassure both of you.

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