Skin Cancer Basics

6 Steps to Check for Melanoma

Allison Tsai Oct 4, 2012 (updated Jul 16, 2014)
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Checking the moles on your skin is important to catch skin cancer, especially melanoma, which is the most serious kind. The American Academy of Dermatology came up with five visual signs called the ABCDEs of melanoma to help.

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Overview of signs and symptoms
Overview of signs and symptoms
There are different types of melanoma and it can appear differently on the skin. General things to know about melanoma are that it will look unusual; unlike other moles on your skin. It will typically have an odd shape and vary in color. Sometimes it will itch, bleed and feel painful. The ABCDEs of melanoma are a quick way to remember what to look for.Source:American Academy of Dermatology
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A is for asymmetry
A is for asymmetry
An asymmetrical shape can be an indicator of melanoma. This means that one side looks different from the other. One side could be darker and raised, while the other side is lighter in color and flat.Source:American Academy of Dermatology
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B is for border
B is for border
An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border of the growth could be a sign of melanoma.Source:American Academy of Dermatology
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C is for color
C is for color
Multiple colors, varying colors from one area to another or uneven distribution of color could mean cancer. There might be shades of tan, brown or black, but sometimes white, red and blue can appear.Source:American Academy of Dermatology
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D is for diameter
D is for diameter
The diameter of a melanoma is usually bigger than 1/4 inch or 6 mm when diagnosed, but they can be smaller. This is about the size of a pencil eraser. Rapid growth over weeks or months could also be an indication of cancer. Make sure your doctor checks anything larger than a pencil eraser.Source:American Academy of Dermatology
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E is for evolving
E is for evolving
Some moles don't exactly fit the criteria for ABCDs of melanoma, but they can be cancerous nonetheless. If you see a mole that looks odd, or you see sudden changes in size, color or shape, get it checked. Moles that "evolve" and continue to change can be problematic.Source:American Academy of Dermatology