How Can You Tell If That Mole Is Cancerous?

May 7th 2016

Checking your skin for signs of cancer can help you catch it quickly. Look for any changes and remember the ABCDE symptoms to observe a mole that could be dangerous. If you do notice any symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection is key to a good prognosis.

Asymmetry

Normal, healthy moles are usually round and even. If you notice that one side of your mole is significantly different from the other side, it could be a sign of cancer. This is particularly concerning if the mole used to be symmetrical. Some people do have asymmetrical moles that are not cancerous, but these usually develop in childhood.

Border

Moles usually have a smooth, clearly defined edge that separates them from the skin around them. If your mole seems to bleed into the surrounding skin, it could be a sign of problems. Moles with a ragged appearance or notched edges may also indicate cancer.

Color

Healthy moles typically have a fairly uniform color. They are usually brown or black. Cancerous moles, on the other hand, often feature a variety of shades and colors in the same mole. They may have patches of normal colors, such as brown and black, but some potentially dangerous moles also have unusual colors. They may have patches of pink, blue, white or red.

You may also want to have your doctor examine any moles that are a significantly different color than all the others, even if it is in the normal range. For example, if you mostly have very dark brown moles and notice one that is light tan, that might be worth a doctor's visit. Some people have moles of many different colors, but others have fairly uniform ones.

Diameter

Large moles are more likely to be cancerous than small ones, although there is no size requirement for melanoma. However, it is a good idea to have your doctor check any moles that are more than about 1/4 inch in diameter, even if they appear normal otherwise.

Evolving

Change is the biggest indicator that a mole might be cancerous. Most moles are not present when a baby is born but rather develop during childhood, so it is nothing to worry about in young children. However, most healthy moles have developed by adulthood, so a new one is always a cause for concern. Existing moles that grow larger or change in appearance should also be examined by a doctor.

Changes to the surface or texture of a mole are also potential signs of cancer. Moles that suddenly begin to bleed or ooze may be dangerous, especially if they do not seem to be healing normally. Some cancerous moles develop bumps when they used to be smooth, or they suddenly become scaly or flaky.

Itchiness or Pain

Some cancerous moles do not feel different, but others suddenly become tender. You may feel pain most of the time, or only when something touches the area. Sometimes this may be accompanied by redness or swelling around the mole. A persistent itch around the mole can also be a sign of cancer, especially when combined with other symptoms.

Conclusion

Although skin cancer can take a variety of forms, one of the most common and subtle symptoms can be the appearance of moles. Most people have moles on their bodies, and most are nothing to worry about. However, knowing what a cancerous mole looks like can save your life. Remember the initials "ABCDE"

Sources

Cancer.gov "Common moles, dysplastic nevi, and risk of melanoma" http://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/moles-fact-sheet
WebMD.com "Moles and skin cancer screening" http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/screening-moles-cancer
Cancer.org "Signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer" http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-signs-and-symptoms
Cancer.org "How is melanoma skin cancer found?" http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/overviewguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-overview-diagnosed

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