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How can I tell the difference between melanoma and an ordinary mole?

Most people have multiple moles on their bodies. A mole can be present at birth or it can appear later in life. Sometimes several moles appear at about the same time, especially on sun-exposed skin. Once a mole has developed, it usually stays the same size, shape and color for many years. A quick and easy way to examine your moles is by using your ABCDs.

A=Asymmetry Test your mole for asymmetry by drawing an imaginary line down the middle: do the two halves match? Ordinary moles are usually round and symmetrical, while most early melanomas are asymmetrical.

B=Border Ordinary moles are round or oval and have well-defined, smooth, even borders. Melanomas often have ragged, uneven or notched borders. Also, spreading of pigment from the border of the mole into surrounding skin is a warning sign of melanoma.

C=Color Ordinary moles are usually one color throughout and are usually brown, tan or flesh-colored. Melanomas may have several colors (black, brown, red, white, blue) or an irregular pattern of colors.

D=Diameter Moles can be many different sizes, but ordinary moles are generally less than ¼ inch (6 millimeters) in diameter, which is the diameter of a pencil eraser. Melanomas may be as small as 1/8 inch, but are often larger.

E=Enlargement Ordinary moles usually do not change over time. A mole that suddenly grows in size or rapidly becomes elevated is suspicious.

Other warning signs include:
  • a sore that does not heal
  • any change in sensation such as itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • any change in the surface of a mole such as scaliness, oozing or bleeding

    The most common locations of melanomas include:
  • Men: head, neck, trunk
  • Women: arms, legs
    Please note that melanoma can occur anywhere, including under the fingernails and toenails.

    You may also have systemic symptoms. These may include:
  • weight loss
  • abdominal tenderness
  • change in bowel habits
  • sores on your skin

  • Last updated: Jun-10-10

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