It’s important to know your skin so you can recognize when something unusual crops up, and when it does, it’s best to have a licensed dermatologist take a look. Moles are extremely common, with most people having them somewhere on their body.
While most moles will never cause a problem, one that has an unusual appearance may develop into a type of skin cancer called melanoma.
Esteemed medical director and board-certified dermatology and dermatopathology specialist Yvonne Hines, MD, and her team at Hines Dermatology want you to be ever vigilant of the risk of melanoma so you can act quickly.
People of all skin types and tones (including darker skin tones) should be aware of melanoma. Take a few moments to find out what to do if you spot an unusual mole and why it matters.
Typical mole appearance
Before you can spot an unusual mole, it’s necessary to know what they typically look like. Moles are a type of skin growth. They’re usually small dark spots, either round or oval, and they most often appear in childhood. Most people have between 10 and 40 moles.
At the heart of a mole are clumps of pigmented cells called melanin, which gives your eyes, skin, and hair its color. Moles may change in appearance over time and on occasion may fade away completely.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy and adolescence may prompt changes in the appearance of your mole.
Unusual moles may be a sign of melanoma
An atypical mole differs from the common appearance of a mole in a number of ways. The acronym ABCDE is used to help more easily identify an unusual mole. Let’s spell it out:
Because the typical mole looks the same on both sides (imagine a line down the middle), a mole with irregular sides should catch your attention. For instance, an asymmetrical mole may appear round on one side and oddly shaped on the other.
The borders of a typical mole are smooth and flat. Pay attention if you notice a mole that has irregular borders. Visit a dermatologist to evaluate any moles that have jagged, raised, or unusual-looking borders.
Because moles are made of melanin, they’re usually dark brown in color and maintain a consistent shade throughout. Moles associated with melanoma have an unusual color pattern. They may have a dark-brown center that becomes much lighter toward the border, or you may see a mixture of colors.
Harmless moles are usually less than one-quarter inch, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. Melanoma, on the other hand, tends to grow larger. If you have a mole that is large, but otherwise appears normal, it’s still best to have a dermatologist check it out to make sure you’re in the clear.
Likewise, if you have a mole that is small in diameter, but has other unusual features such as irregular borders, see a dermatologist.
Your run-of-the-mill mole should look the same from day-to-day. It's a warning sign if your mole seems to evolve in shape, size, color, or diameter. A mole that goes from typical in appearance to having irregular borders, or a change in color, or a small mole that suddenly begins growing in size is a cause for concern.
When in doubt, get it checked out
Most moles are not skin cancer, but being aware of the ABCDEs of melanoma can save your life. If you think you have an unusual mole but you’re not sure, a dermatologist can take a look at the lesion and give you some answers.
Like most cancers, the chance of successfully treating melanoma is higher when caught early. The five-year survival rate of localized melanoma found early is over 98%.
Rely on Hines Dermatology to keep your skin as healthy as possible. For all of your dermatology needs, contact our Attleboro, Massachusetts, office at 508-222-1976 or book online to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hines.
Current and prospective patients can also send a message to Dr. Hines and the team here on our website.