Moles are more common than you might think. Almost every adult has a few moles, and adults who have light skin often have more. They are common growths that can appear anywhere on the skin, and are usually brown or black in color. Moles occur when the cells in the skin grow in a cluster, instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells, called melanocytes, make the pigment that gives skin its natural color.
Most moles are harmless, but a type of skin cancer — melanoma — can grow in or near a mole, making it important to know the signs and symptoms of a malignant mole. If caught early, melanoma can be treated and cured. Checking your skin regularly and paying attention to the shape, size, color and any changes in your moles can help you determine a benign mole from a malignant one.
Here are the ABCDE’s of melanoma to watch out for:
A – Asymmetry
A benign mole is often symmetrical — both sides look the same. If you draw an imaginary line through a malignant mole, the two halves will not match, meaning it’s asymmetrical — a warning sign for melanoma.
B – Border
A benign mole has smooth, even borders all the way around. The borders of early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped, notched or not clearly defined.
C – Color
Most benign moles are all one color, most often a shade of brown, red or black. A mole that has a variety of colors to it is a warning sign of melanoma. A mole with different shades of brown mixed with tan, black, red, white or blue should be checked out by a doctor.
D – Diameter
Benign moles most often have a smaller diameter than moles that are malignant. Melanomas are usually larger than 1/4 inch or 6mm, but they may be smaller when first detected.
E – Evolving
Benign moles look the same over time. A mole that starts to evolve or change may be a warning sign of melanoma. If you notice a mole change in size, shape, color, elevation or in any other way, see a doctor.
Melanomas don’t always fit the ABCDE guidelines. If you notice any changes or new spots on your skin that look different from the rest of your moles, see a health care professional.
Other warning signs include:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into the surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump
Some risk factors of melanoma such as age, gender, race and family history cannot be controlled, but there are other risk factors you can control. To reduce your risk of melanoma:
- Limit your exposure to UV rays
- Seek shade
- Protect your skin from the sun
- Avoid using tanning beds and sunlamps
- Protect children from the sun