Detecting Cancerous Moles

Six Warning Signs of Possible Skin Cancer

Many of us enjoy outdoor summer activities without giving our skin a second thought. We may put on a thin layer of sunscreen and think we are protected for the rest of the day. We even try to add to our tan by using tanning beds, sometimes year round. All of this exposure to ultraviolet radiation has led to an increase in the number of cases of skin cancer. Melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, claims approximately 10,000 lives annually in the United States.

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Skin cancers, including melanoma, are often curable if recognized and treated early. The following are some early warning signs of skin cancer.


Most benign moles are symmetrical. If you draw a line through the center of your mole, the two sides should match. If the two sides are asymmetrical, meaning they do not match, you should see your primary physician or dermatologist for further evaluation.


The edges of a benign mole are typically smooth and even. Notched or irregular borders may indicate that a mole is malignant.


A typical mole is often a single color, usually brown. A mole with multiple colors may be a warning sign of possible melanoma. Early skin cancers may also appear blue, red, or white.


Malignant moles are generally larger than benign moles. If you spot a mole that is larger than a pencil eraser, you should see a dermatologist for a skin exam.


A mole that changes in appearance over time is a cause for concern. You should also see your doctor or dermatologist if a mole develops new symptoms such as bleeding, itching, or becomes crusty.

The Ugly Duckling Sign

As a general rule, a person's moles tend to resemble one another. You should seek medical attention if you discover a mole that is different in feel and appearance from your other moles.

Early detection is essential in treating skin cancer. You should perform a head-to-toe self-exam on a monthly basis, especially if you have a history of sun exposure and sunburns. You can enlist the aid of a family member or use a mirror to check hard to see areas. You should seek prompt medical attention if you spot any of the above warning signs.

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