Is my mole suspicious? When should I be concerned?

May 16, 2014
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A normal mole, once it has developed, most often stays the same size, shape and color. Some may fade away over time.

Most people have moles and many are harmless.

The A-B-C-D-E rule can help you tell a normal mole from an abnormal one, UC Irvine Health dermatology experts say. Moles that display any of these signs should be checked by a doctor:

  • A for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B for Border: Edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C for Color: The color is not uniform and may include shades of brown or black, and even patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • D for Diameter: The spot is larger than about ¼ inch across — the size of a pencil eraser. Melanomas, however, can be smaller than this.
  • E for Evolving: The mole or spot is changing in size, shape or color.

“The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in shape, size or color,” says UC Irvine Health dermatologist, Dr. Janellen Smith, a clinical professor of dermatology. “A spot or mole that looks different from all of the other ones on your skin can also be a warning sign and you should have your skin checked by a doctor.”

Smith cautions that some melanomas don’t fit the “rules” above. It may be hard to tell if a mole is normal, so you should show your doctor anything that you are unsure of.

Other warning signs include:

  • A sore that doesn't heal
  • Spread of color from the border of a spot to the skin around it
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • Change in the surface of a mole — scaliness, oozing, bleeding, a new bump or nodule
  • A normal mole is usually an evenly colored brown, tan or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised, round or oval. Moles are usually less than ¼ inch across — or about the width of a pencil eraser. Moles can be present at birth or they can appear later.

Be sure to check your skin quarterly and have a yearly skin exam by a trained dermatologist.

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. UC Irvine Health wants to improve your chances of living a long and healthy life — know your risks and get checked out.

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