Skin cancer has the inglorious first place as the most common cancer to attack people in the United States. And moles on your body are usually the first to come under the scanner when it comes to identifying skin cancer.1 Is that mole on your body a normal, harmless spot, or a cancerous freckle? Find out by learning to spot the signs and symptoms.
What Does A Non-Cancerous Mole Look Like?
Simply having a mole shouldn’t be any reason to panic. Many of us are born with moles on our skin or develop them in childhood or as young adults. And most moles people have are generally harmless. So how do you identify a normal mole?
Here are some typical signs that a mole is normal2:
- Evenly colored (usually brown, black, or tan)
- May be raised or flat
- Shape tends to be oval or round
- Size is usually small, under 6 mm across
- Shape, size, and color tend to remain unchanged
- May fade away
What Does A Cancerous Mole Look Like?
1. New Moles
In general, you shouldn’t see new moles cropping up on your skin as an adult. Normal, noncancerous moles usually appear in childhood or young adulthood if they weren’t already present from birth.
2. Asymmetric Moles
If the mole you have suspicions about isn’t the usual oval or round shape but asymmetric, you may want to get it checked by a specialist. An irregular shape with asymmetry between two halves is something to be mindful of.
3. Irregular Borders
If you notice that the pigment of the mole seems to almost bleed beyond the border of the mole into the skin surrounding it, it may be a melanoma. The edges may seem a little ragged or irregular or even notched.
4. Variation In Color
Unlike normal moles which tend to be one color, melanomas are often of multiple colors and shades. Besides the even browns, tans, blacks, or pinks of regular moles, melanomas will also feature colors like gray, blue, red, and even white. So if you’ve been wondering if a particular mole is cancerous, check for variations in shades and new colors as a sign of melanoma.
5. Size Of Moles
Another warning sign is if your mole has suddenly grown in size. If you find a mole that’s more than the size of a pea – approximately a quarter inch or so – or bigger, you could be dealing with a possible melanoma. Remember, some melanomas may be smaller too. So if you notice other signs of a cancerous mole, don’t discount those findings because the size doesn’t fit your image of a typical melanoma. It is always safer to have it checked.
6. Unfamiliar Looking Moles Or Evolving Moles/Spots
If you suddenly find a new spot or more on your body, you may need to observe it carefully. It could be a subtle change to some skin that used to be normal or in a freckle you’ve always had. It could be a mole that suddenly looks different. Here’s what you need to watch out for:
- Change In Surface Of Mole: The surface of the mole may look different. The changes may involve the appearance of a new bump or lump on the mole itself. Or the texture may seem suddenly different.
- Change in Sensation Of Mole: If you find your mole is suddenly itchy or painful or tender, you should get it checked. Moles that are noncancerous don’t usually have any associated pain or tenderness nor any itching because they have ceased to grow a long time ago.
- Change of Color Of Mole: If the mole gets darker, turns patchy, or begins to develop different colors, that’s another warning sign.7 8
7. Inflammation: Swelling And Redness
If the mole exhibits redness or swelling beyond what should be a defined border, you may need to check if it is a melanoma. If you see something that looks like inflamed skin around the mole, you should have it checked.
8. Non-Healing Sores And Bleeding/Crusting/Scabbing
Bleeding, crusting, and scabbing of moles or sores that refuse to heal are all potential warning signs of a mole that could be cancerous.
How To Check For Cancer Moles
Always remember to check absolutely everywhere. It is easy to miss certain spots – for instance, the soles of your feet and the palms of your hand. About 42 percent of melanomas in women are found on their legs, but that doesn’t discount the fact that 21 percent are on the arms, 17 percent on the trunk, and 14 percent on the head and neck. With men, 38 percent of melanomas are found on the trunk, mainly on the back, but 22 percent occur on the head and neck, 17 percent on the arms, and 15 percent on the legs. So while the chances may be higher for the moles to appear in a certain region, you could belong to the smaller subgroup that has the moles in a different area.9
Steps To Follow While Checking For Cancer Moles
- Arm yourself with a mirror so you can look at your body from different angles and not miss any spots.
- Check the front and back, then each side.
- Next, take a look at the length of all sides of your arms, underarms, elbows, palms, and hands. Move on to checking your legs, feet, soles, and even between toes.
- You will even need to check your scalp and neck by moving hair aside.
- Use your hand mirror to carefully check your buttocks and back.10
Remember The ABCDE Of Cancer Moles
As the American Cancer Society explains, the “ABCDE” of melanomas can help you remember exactly what to look for in a mole. To sum up what you’ve just read, these are11:
- A for Asymmetry: If one-half of the mole doesn’t look like the other, that’s a red flag.
- B for Border: If you find the edges or border of the mole is ragged, blurred, notched, or irregular in some way, it could be cancerous.
- C for Color: Melanomas may not have a uniform color. Shaded colors of black or brown, with hints of red, pink, blue, or white are something to watch out for.
- D for Diameter: Moles or spots bigger than a quarter of an inch (about 6 mm) in diameter may be a problem, although some melanomas are smaller too.
- E for Evolving: A mole or spot that changes shape, size, or color is a potential problem.
|↑1||What Is Skin Cancer? Center for Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑2, ↑11||Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society|
|↑3||Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑4||Symptoms of melanoma. National Health Service.|
|↑5||What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑6||Be clear on cancer Symptoms. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Symptoms.Cancer Research UK.|
|↑8||Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer.American Cancer Society|
|↑9||Symptoms. Cancer Research UK.|
|↑10||Detect skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology.|