Do Your Moles Indicate Skin Cancer Risk?

It's perfectly normal to have moles on your body -- as long as you know how to keep an eye out for any skin cancer warning signs. Most skin cancers can be treated and cured if they are discovered early, which is why it is so important to know how to spot the warning signs of an abnormal mole. Brendan Lloyd, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Santa Ana, has some advice on what exactly to look for to make sure that your skin is healthy and your moles are benign.

"A normal mole looks like a small brown spot that stays the same over time," explains Dr. Lloyd. "If you are concerned that your moles may be abnormal or malignant, your dermatologist can evaluate them, and, if necessary, perform a biopsy to determine whether or not additional steps need to be taken." According to Dr. Lloyd, there are a few general rules of thumb when checking your moles.

  • Changes in size: If you've noticed that a mole has grown in size over time or is much larger than your other moles, visit your dermatologist to discuss it. Moles larger than a standard pencil eraser may need more attention. If you're not sure if it's actually getting larger or if you're just having a hard time remembering it, try taking a picture every week or every month to track any changes.
  • Asymmetry: A benign mole won't always necessarily be a perfect circle, but you should be able to visually divide it down the middle and notice that each side is a mirror image. An asymmetrical mole may be a sign for melanoma.
  • Irregular border: A benign mole will usually have a smooth and flat border. If your mole has an uneven or scalloped border or if the border seems to be changing, it may need to be checked by a dermatologist.
  • Inconsistent color: Healthy moles range from light to dark brown in color and should generally be the same color throughout. Multiple colors or patchiness, especially blacks, blues, whites and reds, can be warning signs for skin cancer. If your mole contains significant color variation or abnormal colors, visit your dermatologist to have it looked at.

"In general, if you've noticed any warning signs or changes in a mole over time, it's worth going to your primary care doctor or dermatologist to get it checked out," notes Dr. Lloyd. "Keep track of size, shape and color as well as the onset of itching or bleeding. A healthy mole should not change in any of these respects. Also keep an eye out for new moles and 'ugly duckling' moles that stand out from the rest on your body."

If you have questions about any of your moles, make an appointment with your dermatologist today.

Learn more about St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. Learn about Dr. Lloyd.


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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