Knowing what’s normal for your body is the first step to detecting skin cancer before it spreads. Make sure you keep track of all the moles and spots on your body, for example, by keeping a photo archive. You are advised to check your skin from head-to-toe once a month, looking for any changes or additions. By knowing what is normal, you will be able to spot any potentially worrisome differences.
Changing moles could indicate skin cancer
It isn’t uncommon for a mole to change gradually over time. Some moles may become darker or flatten as you age; however, you should take note if a mole changes rapidly. Quick changes can be a sign of skin cancer moles. You should also keep an eye on moles that appear during adulthood as they are more likely to pose a risk.
An atypical mole, also known as dysplastic nevus, tends to be larger than a common one, has irregular edges and is uneven in color. Atypical moles aren’t always cancerous or pre-cancerous, but they should be checked by a doctor for any abnormalities.
What’s a normal mole?
While skin cancer is a severe disease affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year, the vast majority of moles are harmless. So, before identifying the signs of a cancerous mole, let’s make sure you understand the appearance of a normal or benign mole.
A normal mole usually:
- has neat edges
- is smooth or dome-shaped
- is around ¼ inch (6 mm) in diameter
- preserves the same shape, size or color over time.
The warning signs of skin cancer moles
On the other hand, skin cancer moles have a few common warning signs you should watch out for :
- A change in size (getting larger)
- A change in shape (especially with irregular edges)
- A change in color (especially getting darker or exhibiting multiple shades)
- A loss of symmetry (common moles will be perfectly round or oval and are usually symmetrical)
- Itchiness, pain or bleeding (maybe even forming a scab)
- Exhibiting three different shades of brown or black
- A change in elevation (thickening or raising of a flat mole)
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible for a skin examination.
The ABCDE shortcut
It can be challenging to remember all the characteristics to look out for during a skin check. That’s why many doctors advise using the ABCDE method to make things simpler.
Just remember your ABCDEs during skin self-exam:
- Asymmetrical – the mole is distinctly asymmetrical
- Border – the mole has uneven borders
- Colors – the mole contains at least two distinct colors
- Diameter – the mole is wider than ¼ inch or 6 mm
- Evolution– the mole evolves in size, shape, color or texture over time