How can I tell if an existing mole is melanoma?

Mark Gimbel, MD, is a general surgeon at at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Question: How can I tell if an existing mole is melanoma?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not one specific way that you can tell whether a mole may be melanoma or just simply a mole. However, there is a process known as the ABCDE method that can help you determine whether a mole may be suspicious.

The ABCDE method is as follows:

A – Asymmetry. It is important to look at the shape of a mole. Common moles tend to be symmetrical and regularly shaped. Melanomas are usually irregularly shaped and uneven throughout.

B- Border. The border of a mole should be smooth. Melanomas usually have jagged and irregular edges.

C- Color. While normal moles are usually brown, melanomas tend to be multicolored.

D- Diameter. Most moles have a diameter of 6mm or less. Any mole with a diameter above 6mm may be melanoma.

E – Elevation. Erythema. Moles are typically flat with normal skin surrounding them. An existing mole that becomes elevated or develops an erythematous (red) border may be changing into a melanoma.

After going through this method if you are still unsure about a mole, you should make an appointment with your physician or dermatologist to get a professional opinion.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer; however, it is curable if diagnosed in the early stages. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body where pigment cells are found. Risk factors such as a severe sunburn as a child, chronic sun exposure throughout life, fair colored skin, and a history of having a dysplastic mole syndrome or a previous melanoma can greatly increase the chance (deleted chances and made it singular) of being diagnosed with a new melanoma. You can help to prevent melanoma by limiting sun exposure by keeping your skin covered and wearing both sunscreen and a hat when outside.

It is important to monitor and examine any moles found on the skin on a monthly basis, using the ABCDE method, to help prevent the spread of melanoma. If you think you may have a melanoma or are unsure, it is important to get checked by your physician.