How to Know If Those Moles Are Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Moles can be more than occasionally troublesome to deal with, they can be a potential danger to your health. We’ve all heard that skin cancer is rampant nowadays, from mild cases to more serious ones, and one of the most common signs are moles.

But just because you have a mole doesn’t necessarily mean you have skin cancer. There are many different types of moles and many different reasons they spring up on your body, so it’s important to understand what types of moles you have and how to tell the bad ones from the benign ones.

Naturally, we recommend seeing your dermatologist or regular practitioner if you have any concerns about a mole or spot on your skin. But if you’re unable to get to a doctor immediately, or are just curious/nervous and want some quicker clarification, we’ve got you covered. Here is a comprehensive guide to body moles and how to detect skin cancer.

Dermatologist examines a mole of male patient

Types of Moles

  • Congenital Moles – Congenital moles are moles that you have at birth. Only about 1% of people are born with congenital moles. These moles in particular have an increased rate of turning into skin cancer and should be examined by a dermatologist.
  • Acquired Moles – As their name would suggest, these are moles that you acquire through life through sun exposure, genetics or hormones, although sun exposure is the most common explanation. These moles are no more than an inch in diameter and are generally harmless, with little to no risk of developing into skin cancer.
  • Atypical Moles – Also known as dysplastic nevi, atypical moles are quite large, usually larger than a pencil eraser. They are generally uneven in color, with a dark brown center and are shaped irregularly. There may be a reddish or brownish color around the edges of these moles, or even black dots. Atypical moles are genetic in nature and do have an increased chance of developing into skin cancer. See a dermatologist about these moles.

How to Test Your Moles

The common at-home test for distinguishing a regular mole from a potentially cancerous one is called the “ABCDEs of Melanoma”. You’ll see the image above has a visual representation of this test, but here’s the general breakdown:

Asymmetry – Is your mole symmetrical or not? If the mold can be folded perfectly in half, it is symmetrical and very likely not cancerous. If your mole is a bit more of a blob and has no symmetry, get it checked by your doctor.

Borders – If the outside of your mole (or the border) is uneven, with various random dips instead of an even border all around, consult your doctor.

Color – Your mole should be one consistent color. If your mole is two different colors or more, consult with your doctor.

Diameter – The rule of thumb is generally that a benign mole is usually a 1/4 inch or smaller. If your mole is larger than a quarter inch in diameter, consult your doctor.

Evolving – This is something to be VERY aware of. You must always monitor your moles to see if they change. If a mole appears and stays the same, odds are it’s fine. But if the mole continues to grow or change in anyway, it’s best to consult your doctor.

Other immediate warning signs include if the mole is itchy, bleeding, oozing, or if it appears scaly. If the mole is tender or even painful to touch, consult your doctor immediately.

Keep in mind that this at-home test is not the final say. You should always be suspicious of new moles and consult your doctor if you have any reservations.

General Tips for Screenings

If you’re going to do some self-evaluating at home first, remember a few important tips.

  1. Use a full length mirror when examining yourself. Start at the head and go all the way down to make sure you cover your whole body.
  2. Don’t miss “hidden spots” like in between fingers or the backs of your knees.
  3. Check your scalp regularly. Try using a hand held mirror or asking a friend or family member to check for you.
  4. Keep in mind how melanoma appears for men and women. For men, cancerous moles tend to appear on the back. For women, they tend to appear on the lower leg.
  5. Photograph your moles to keep track of any changes. You can even try apps like Doctor Mole, which tracks any mole changes FOR you and can help potentially catch a cancerous mole.

And remember, when in doubt, ALWAYS consult your doctor about a suspicious or new mole.

How to Prevent Cancerous Moles

Some of these tips we already know, but it’s good to keep in mind that you CAN avoid these potentially cancerous moles to begin with! Now, you can’t avoid moles all together – scientifically, we all get moles, no matter what. But there are ways to prevent new, dangerous ones from cropping up.

  1. DON’T use tanning beds or stay out in the sun too long.
  2. DO wear as much coverage as possible, even in the spring, fall, and winter! The sun doesn’t go away because it’s not summer.
  3. DO try to consume as much Vitamin D as possible. It’s great for your skin health!
  4. DON’T ignore warning signs! Skin cancer can show up ANYWHERE and any suspicious activity should be shown to a doctor.
  5. DO wear sunscreen, ALWAYS.

That warning to wear sunscreen all the time is ever-present in today’s world – which is a good thing! Sunscreen is your first line of defense against the sun’s rays and potential cancers.

But did you know there are actually rules to sunscreen? As far as what sunscreen to buy and how to apply it properly, you may be lost. Check out this helpful video below for some clarifications!

Do everything you can to avoid cancerous moles from the start, but if you already have moles you’re suspicious of, make sure to give them the at-home test. And anything that makes you uncomfortable should always, always be reported to your doctor – your health may depend on it.