The ABCDs of Melanoma

Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless – but not always. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your skin very well and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body.  Look for the ABCDs of melanoma, and if you see one or more, make an appointment with a physician immediately.

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Asymmetry

The shape of one half does not match the other.

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Border

The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.

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Color

The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.

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Diameter

There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).


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Unusual moles that may indicate melanoma

Characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas or other skin cancers follow the A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
  • B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — the characteristics of melanomas.
  • C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters).
  • E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.

Other suspicious changes in a mole may include:

  • Scaliness
  • Itching
  • Change in texture — for instance, becoming hard or lumpy
  • Spreading of pigment from the mole into the surrounding skin
  • Oozing or bleeding

Malignant moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the changes listed above, while others may have only one or two unusual characteristics.

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