What should I look for when examining my moles?

Most moles are benign (non-cancerous). The only moles that are of medical concern are those that look different than other existing moles (referred to as the ‘ugly duckling sign’) or those that appear after age 20. If you notice changes in a mole's color, thickness, size or shape, you should see a dermatologist. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful.

If your moles do not change over time, there is little reason for concern. However, if you notice changes in a mole's color, thickness, size, or shape, you should see a dermatologist. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful.

Examine your skin with a mirror or ask someone to help you. Pay special attention to areas of your skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, legs (especially in females), arms, chest, and back (men).

The ABCDE's are important signs of moles that could be cancerous. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist:

  • Asymmetry: If one half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border: If the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular.
  • Color: If the color of the mole is not the same throughout, or it has shades of multiple colors such as tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red.
  • Diameter: If the diameter of a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil.
  • Elevation/Evolution: If the mole becomes raised after being flat, or it changes over time.

The most common location for melanoma (form of skin cancer) in men is the back; in women, it is the lower leg. Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25 to 29.

How does your dermatologist determine if moles are a concern?

Normal (benign) moles do not need to be removed. (Doing so will leave a scar.)

If your dermatologist determines that the mole is a concern, he or she will perform a skin biopsy, in which a small sample of the mole is taken to examine under a microscope. A diagnosis can usually be made in less than a week. If the mole is found to be cancerous, it needs to be completely removed.

If you are concerned that a mole is changing or if you see worrisome signs, please call your dermatologist to have the mole examined.

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