A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Holy moly: 5 signs of a melanoma mole

If you’re worried about moles on your skin, you’re not alone.

Many people come to dermatologists like Dr. Clayton Green, because they’re worried about whether their moles can become cancerous.

“Moles in and of themselves aren’t dangerous,” said Green, a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist. “Only a third of melanomas arise within preexisting moles.

A common mole is a small growth on the skin that is usually pink, tan or brown and has a distinct edge. Most American adults have at least one common mole, for no identifiable reason.

Illustration of molesMole A-B-Cs

Like most dermatologists, Green uses ABCDE criteria to look for signs of early melanoma, the most aggressive skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry, the shape of one half does not match the other half
  • Border that is irregular with edges often ragged, notched or blurred
  • Color that is uneven, with shades of different colors appearing
  • Diameter, usually an increase in size to about ¼-inch wide
  • Evolving, usually changing over the past few weeks or months

Green also adds an “F” for “funny looking,” a mole that doesn’t fit in with the rest.

“Often the funny-looking ones are how melanomas are spotted,” he said, but overall very few moles become cancerous. The more moles a person has, the greater the risk of melanoma so he monitors patients who have 100 or more moles.

“Moles are a big reason patients come to see me because of concerns about changes in size or color,” he said.  “Patients often want moles removed for cosmetic reasons when they dislike their appearance.  It’s not uncommon for moles to get irritated or bleed for a variety of reasons.”

Sun protection helps

Dermatologists don’t normally suggest removing moles unless they are causing problems or have abnormal features. People with a large number of moles should be especially diligent about protecting their skin from the sun. And remember, continued tanning or burning increases the chance of developing melanoma.

You can learn more about the signs and symptoms of moles from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Talk with your doctor or dermatologist if you’re concerned about changes in mole sizes or color.

“Anyone seeing a dermatologist for the first time for any reason should have a total body skin exam, as we may find a skin cancer that they did not notice,” Green said.

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