Please note: Skin cancer can be a life-threatening condition. Early detection is crucial. While this article will point out some of the warning signs, consulting with a board certified dermatologist is key. Performing monthly skin self-checks and asking for professional skin checks during your yearly checkup can help you detect abnormal skin conditions sooner.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and affects over 3 million Americans annually.  There are 3 main types of skin cancer.  The most common type of skin cancer is the basal cell carcinoma which comes from the epidermis.  The second most common type is the squamous cell cancer.  These cancers are due to chronic sun exposure and usually develop in sun exposed areas.  The third type of skin cancer is the least common, but the most aggressive and can be deadly, melanoma.  This type can be hereditary and comes from moles.  Moles develop from neuroectoderm tissue and migrate to the skin after birth up until our late 30’s. 

Normal vs. Abnormal Moles

Normal moles can be raised or flat, and are typically less than 6 millimeters in diameter, about the size of a pencil eraser. Normal moles will have a fairly regular shape, either round or oval. They range in shade from light to dark brown, but will typically stay the same size, color, and texture throughout your life.

Abnormal moles, on the other hand, appear suddenly or rapidly change. They will change in size, shape, color relatively quickly. The American Cancer Society notes the ABCDE rule of moles to help you detect changes:

  • A is for Asymmetry:  One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for Border:  The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for Color:  The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter:  The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving:  The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Other Warning Signs

While the ABCDE rule is appropriate for moles, melanoma can manifest in other ways. Symptoms of concern include:

  • Redness and swelling around the mole
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Moles that itch or feel painful
  • The mole suddenly becomes more raised, or develops a strange texture.

The best way to address any concerns is to consult with a board certified dermatologist. Evaluating soon and often gives you a greater chance of making a full recovery.