Know the Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

Moles, also known as nevi, are skin growths made up of cells called melanocytes or nevus cells. They can be flat or raised, and range in color from skin colored to light, medium, or dark brown. The average person has fewer than 40 moles, most developed by the time they are in their early 30s. A small number of moles, called congenital nevi, are present at birth or appear shortly thereafter.

Most moles have distinct borders, are oval or round, and are smaller than about ¼ inch (about the size of a pencil eraser), and are of no concern, but should be watched for any changes that develop as they could be early signs of skin cancer including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Your Advanced Dermatology provider will examine you for moles and other suspicious growths during your Annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam.

Learn Your ABCs Again

Learn Your ABCs Again

The so-called ABCDE rules are guidelines to help determine if a mole is normal or abnormal.

A is for asymmetry
B is for Border
C is for Color
D is for Diameter
E is for Elevation and/or Evolving.

Normal moles generally follow the ABCDE rules: they are symmetrical (i.e. one half looks like the other half), have smooth borders, have uniform color that is not too dark, are smaller than a pencil eraser in diameter, and are uniformly elevated above the skin surface and not evolving (changing) over time.

A normal mole that suddenly breaks the ABCDE rules might be in the process of becoming cancerous – possibly a malignant melanoma.

Keep an Eye on Suspicious Moles

Congenital nevi tend to be larger than moles acquired later in life and may have a higher risk of cancerous change over your lifetime compared to acquired moles. The risk of cancerous change tends to be proportional to the size of the congenital nevus at birth: low if less than or equal to 1 cm, intermediate if between 1 and 20 cm, and high if greater than 20 cm. Some congenital nevi may slowly change in appearance over time, especially in early childhood, developing a slightly uneven color, a thickened "pebbly" surface, and increased amounts of hair.

These changes in congenital nevi are felt to be part of the maturation of these types of moles. They are not necessarily cause for concern, but such changes, as well as whether it is necessary to remove a congenital nevus, should be discussed with your Advanced Dermatology dermatologist or provider.

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