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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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17 responses to “Holy moly: 5 signs of a melanoma mole”

  1. EAD

    Having had melanoma, I am told by insurance co that if after 5 yrs all is clear, I don't need to be checked every year thereafter. Is this true? My
    Dermatologist has questioned this.

    1. Kirsten Shakal

      Hi, EAD. The American Cancer Society provides some information on followup exams after melanoma; find this under "Exams and tests" here: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/melanoma-skin-cancer/after-treatment/follow-up.html

      I have also reached out to our dermatology team to see if they can answer your question as well. In the meantime, we recommend following your doctor's advised followup schedule. -Kirstie

    2. Kirsten Shakal

      EAD – I reached out to Dr. Koziczkowski, a dermatologist, and she shared information from the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: "The task force recommendations advise clinicians to evaluate the patient individually at least annually and possibly every 3 to 12 months based on several factors affecting the risk of recurrent and new primary melanoma.”

      To simplify, she said, "At a minimum, a yearly examination is recommended for patients with a history of melanoma by the American Academy of Dermatology. A physician may recommend more frequent screening depending on other risk factors and characteristics of the melanoma diagnosed."

      You and your doctor should determine the best followup schedule for you.

      I hope this helps answer your question. -Kirstie

      1. EAD

        Thanks for all information given. Will certainly follow AAD recommendations
        & schedule next appt which I always felt should have happened every yr as did my dermatologist. It will help to relieve concern each yr as to whether all is ok or not. Will approach other as to why I was told 5 yrs & no need to be rechecked.

  2. Ginna

    I agree with Vivian. I had a GP pooh pooh a spot on my face so it went unchecked for 5 years. It has since been removed and required stitches because it was so advanced. GP's are great people but not specialized in one particular area. GO TO A DERMATOLOGIST!!

  3. Barb

    Last November I was diagnosed with 2 melanomas, neither of which fell into the "classic signs" for melonoma type moles. Find a good Dr and be persistant,when in doubt, biopsy it!!!

  4. Donna Haack

    Tammy is right, I tried to share this information on my face book page and the link does not work

    1. Wellness Team

      Hi, Donna and Tammy,

      Again, thanks for the feedback. We have identified the problem and it's an Internet Explorer issue. We are working to resolve it. I apologize for the inconvenience; until it's resolved, you can copy the URL into a different web browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, etc.).


      Jake, editor

  5. ging

    This terse article would be more helpful to those of us that are prone to melanoma if it included actual photos of cancerous moles, not just descriptions. Just a thought

    1. Jake Miller


      Thank you for the feedback, and we'll definitely look to update the story to include related images. I certainly understand that images would be very useful.


      Jake, Shine365 editor

    2. Robin

      I agree completely with GING…. Having had melanoma, I need to be extra vigilant – photos would truly be helpful.

    3. Ginna

      I agree

  6. Darlene kaczmarek

    Is there a screening offered to check entire body for suspicious moles?

    1. Jake Miller

      Hi, Darlene,

      It's best to first start with your primary care provider, who can offer a full-body check. If he or she suspects a mole needs a closer look, they can refer you to a dermatologist.

      Take care,

      Jake, Shine365 editor

      1. Vivian

        I disagree re: first visiting your regular physician and relying on his/her opinion about referral. Not all doctors are savvy about the subtleties of skin cancers. Even my classic Squamous Cell Cancer was dismissed by three doctors prior to visiting a dermatologist. As a result, treatment was delayed for years. MOHS surgery was performed. I've heard similar stories from friends. My opinion: if you have a skin concern, see a dermatologist!

  7. Tammy Ellis

    your facebook link doesn't work

    1. Jake Miller

      Hi, Tammy,

      Thanks for the note. I checked the link on our Facebook page on both a laptop and cellphone and the link seems to be working. Sorry for the inconvenience.

      Jake, Shine365 editor

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