Skin Cancer or Mole? When to See a Dermatologist

Almost everyone has moles, freckles, birthmarks, and other common skin spots. While these are usually no cause for concern, they should be monitored via regular self-exams and dermatologist appointments to screen for melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer. If you’re concerned about the appearance of a mole, learn how to identify common signs of skin cancer with help from Dr. Amin Fazeli, M.D. Ph.D., FAAD, FACMS and the Dermatology Associates of Central New York team.

Using the ABCDE Rule to Identify Melanoma

To identify signs of melanoma in a mole, dermatologists recommend the ABCDE rule. This rubric asks you to look for several factors, including:

  • Asymmetry: Does the mole look different on one side/in one area?
  • Border: Do you notice ragged, notched edges or other irregularities?
  • Color: Is the mole’s color inconsistent throughout?
  • Diameter: Is the mole larger than a pencil eraser, approximately 1/4-inch in size?
  • Evolving: Has its appearance changed in any way recently?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the mole could be cancerous and should be examined by a dermatologist.

Keep in mind, however, that cancerous moles may exhibit several other signs of concern beyond these symptoms. Patients should also take note of moles that:

  • Have recently appeared
  • Swell or turn red beyond their border
  • Blue, white, or pink color
  • Spread in color past their border
  • Itch or become painful
  • Ooze or bleed
  • Become crusty
  • Have an unusual shape
  • Become hard or lumpy
  • Develop a depression at the center
  • Do not heal after injury or reopen wounds after healing

As you can see, melanoma has many symptoms, and they aren’t always straightforward in presentation. This is why it’s so important to see a dermatologist for annual exams and whenever you have concerns about the appearance of a mole.

Patients should also be aware that while moles can signal melanoma, they are not the only way this skin cancer appears. Additionally, less dangerous forms of skin cancer, such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma, have different symptoms but should also be monitored closely.

Are “Ugly Duckling” Moles Always Cancerous?

Dermatologists may also refer to an “ugly duckling” rule when checking for cancerous moles, and you can put this advice into practice at home as well. An “ugly duckling” mole isn’t necessarily one that’s unattractive. In fact, as long as a mole remains unchanged over time and doesn’t exhibit the signs above, it can simultaneously be safe and unattractive to the patient.

Instead, an “ugly duckling” is a mole that stands out dramatically from other nearby moles. Whether it is larger, smaller, paler, darker, or diverse in shape, these differences merit further investigation. The same is true for moles that appear suddenly away from other clusters. In both cases, however, being an “ugly duckling” is not a definite sign of skin cancer.

Monitor Moles with Help From an Experienced Dermatologist

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer and the leading cause of skin-cancer-related deaths. Accordingly, you should regularly examine your moles and report any changes to your dermatologist. If you have questions or concerns about melanoma and other skin cancers, contact us today to schedule a skin cancer screening. A dermatologist at our Fayetteville, NY practice will evaluate your moles, check for other signs of skin cancer, and offer tips for reducing your risk and keeping your skin healthy.

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