“If you’re like the average person, chances are you have moles somewhere on your body. They’re common and usually not a cause for concern,” says Tace Rico, MD, dermatologist, with Florida Hospital.
A changing mole, however, can be one of the first signs of skin cancer. Yet, if caught soon enough, it is almost always curable. But how do you know what to look for?
Dr. Rico recommends that you check your skin monthly and refer to the ABCs that dermatologists use when checking for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer:
A – Asymmetry. Does one half of any mole on your body not match the other half? “The mole doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, but it should be symmetrical in shape and color,” Dr. Rico says.
B – Border. Are the borders/edges of any mole on your body irregular, jagged or notched?
C – Color. Are there parts of a mole that are varying shades of black, brown, or tan, with white, pink, red, or even blue splotches? “A mole with multiple colors, especially if the colors are asymmetric, is concerning,” says Dr. Rico.
D – Diameter. Are any moles you have larger than 6 millimeters (the width of a pencil eraser) in diameter?
E – Elevated/Evolving. Has your mole grown? Does it itch, bleed or burn? Or is it changing, with new colors, a new size or shape?
Your ABCs should include F for Feeling. “Sometimes people just have a strange or bad feeling about a lesion, even if they aren’t sure it fits any of the ABCDE categories,” she says.
Dr. Rico also points out that the ABC rules don’t usually apply to children because they’re still growing, which means their moles will grow, too. “However, if your child has a mole that’s growing rapidly, see your pediatrician immediately,” she says.
The goal of putting your moles through the ABCDEs and Fs is to catch melanoma early, Dr. Rico says.
“Melanomas don’t all look like they do on the posters, and it’s important to catch it in the early stages because it is extremely aggressive and can spread easily,” notes Dr. Rico. “You know your body better than anyone, so if you have a mole that violates any of the ABCDE guidelines, or if you just have a worrisome feeling, see your dermatologist immediately.”