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Mole check

How to spot a suspicious spot

Last updated: July 2011

The key to effectively examining your body for skin cancer is to familiarize yourself with your own skin. "What you are looking for are changes, something that wasn't there before or a mole that appears to be growing or changing color," advises Allan Halpern, M.D., chief of the dermatology service at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Here's what to look for when doing a mole check:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

BCCs can develop anywhere but most often form on sun-exposed areas—the face, scalp, neck, hands, and arms. They are typically slow-growing and might look like any of the following:

  • A persistent reddish patch of dry skin.
  • A pearl-shaped lump that's skin-colored, pink, red, or brown, often with a depression in the center.
  • A pimple that won't clear.
  • A sore that bleeds, heals, and returns.
  • A scar that feels waxy and might be skin-colored, white, or yellow.
  • A group of shiny pink or red growths that are often scaly and bleed easily.
  • A hard, flat, or sunken growth that might be white or yellow.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCCs often appear on sun-exposed skin but can occur elsewhere—inside the mouth, on lips, or genitals. They often look like:

  • A hard, scaly, or crusty reddish bump, patch, or pearl-shaped growth.
  • An open sore that itches and bleeds, and might heal and return.
  • A scaly patch on the lip that can thicken.

Melanoma

Healthy moles are typically small, one color, circular or oval, and have a well-defined border. Suspicious moles usually have one or more of the distinctive A, B, C, D, E characteristics summarized below. Some melanomas can also appear as a brown or black streak under the fingernails or look like a bruise that won't heal. A melanoma will sometimes itch, bleed, or feel painful.

  • Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other.
  • Border: An irregular or poorly defined border.
  • Color: Varies from one area to another, often in shades of tan, black, and brown. Is sometimes white, red, or blue.
  • Diameter: Typically greater than the size of a pencil eraser, but they can be smaller.
  • Evolving: A mole or lesion that looks unlike others or is changing in color, shape, or size.

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