How to Tell a Mole from Melanoma

Allison Bush | Nov 24th 2015 Aug 1st 2017

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Skin checks are an important part of finding and treating skin cancer early. Many people notice some changes but wait several months before making an appointment with a dermatologist either because they want to see if there are further changes or because they are scared to get answers.

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The size and shape of your moles

A normal mole is smaller than ¼ inch - the size of a pencil eraser, has smooth borders, is generally round shaped, and is even colored  Moles also can get darker with sun exposure and can be flat or elevated.

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When to perform a skin check

During your first skin check, you should note where your moles are and the size and shape of each so you can track any changes. It is a good idea to either draw a body diagram and mark where moles are or take pictures so you can compare from month to month.

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Moles that change color

Although sun exposure can make a mole look darker, you should pay attention to drastic changes, such as a mole that was tan in color that has changed to dark brown. You also want to note if there are any moles that are inconsistent in color, for example, black in the middle with tan, white, red or pink around the outside.

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Moles that change size or shape

Moles are usually symmetrical, which means if you draw a line down the center, both sides should look the same. If you notice a mole is evolving, growing or is asymmetrical , it is time to talk to a dermatologist.

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Moles should not be painful

If you have a mole that is bleeding, oozing, itching or tender to the touch, it might signal melanoma.

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Moles should be smooth to the touch

If your mole turns crusty, rough, scaly or develops a scab it may potentially be cancerous and you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

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Know your family history

Remember, a family history of skin cancer puts you at higher risk of developing skin cancer, however, not everyone with skin cancer has a family history. Don’t assume that because no one in your family has skin cancer that you won’t either.

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Protect your skin

In addition to frequent skin checks, you also need to actively practice regular UV protection by using sunscreen of 30 SPF or greater, wearing wide brimmed hats, staying in the shade as often as possible between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM and wearing protective clothing.