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Moles and skin cancer screening

Most moles are harmless, but if they start to grow, itch or bleed, or change in any other way, seek medical advice.
Some types of moles can be linked to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, so mole awareness if important.

If you have moles, check your skin every few months for any new moles or changes to existing ones.

Photo of a mole on the back of a woman's neck

Image: © Bart's Medical Library / Phototake -- All rights reserved.

If you notice changes in a mole's colour or appearance, you should show the mole to your GP. You should also have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful. If your GP is in doubt about your mole, he or she will probably refer you to a skin specialist or dermatologist.

What should I look for when examining my moles?

Examine your skin with a mirror if you cannot see the moles directly. Pay close attention to areas of your skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, chest and head. If your moles do not change over time, you needn’t be concerned.

The following ABCDEs are important signs of moles that could be skin cancer. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by your GP:

  • Asymmetry: one half of the mole does not match the other half
  • Border: the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular
  • Colour: the mole has different colours or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red
  • Diameter: the diameter of the mole is larger than 6mm
  • Elevation: the mole appears elevated (raised from the skin)

You should always be suspicious of a new mole or an existing mole that increases in size. If you do notice a new mole, seek medical advice as soon as possible. If your GP is suspicious of it, you will probably be referred to a dermatologist. Your mole will be closely examined and a skin biopsy may be taken. If it's skin cancer, a biopsy can show how deeply it has penetrated the skin. Your dermatologist needs this information to decide how to treat the mole.

The most common location for melanoma in men is the back; in women, it is the lower leg.

Tips to consider for skin cancer screening

Keep these tips in mind when screening your moles for skin cancer:

  • Examine your skin after a bath or shower, while your skin is still wet.
  • Use a full-length mirror if you have one. Start at your head and work your way down, looking at all the areas of your body (including the front, back and sides of each area, and under your fingernails and toenails). Also check the ‘hidden’ areas: between your fingers and toes, your groin, the soles of your feet and the backs of your knees. Don't forget to check your scalp and neck thoroughly for moles. Use a hand-held mirror or ask a family member to help you look at these areas.
  • Keep track of all the moles on your body and what they look like. Take a photo and date it to help you monitor them. That way, you'll notice if the moles change. If they do change in any way (in colour, shape, size, border, etc.), seek medical advice. Also, if you have any new moles that you think look suspicious, seek medical advice.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 15, 2016

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