How to check your moles for signs of skin cancer (2024)

Why should you check moles regularly?

It’s important to check your skin and moles regularly. New moles or marks on your skin, or changes to an existing mole could be a sign of a type of skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK. The good news is, the earlier it’s spotted and treated, the better the outlook is.

Am I at risk of skin cancer?

Most people know that getting sunburn increases the chances of getting skin cancer. But studies suggest you are more at risk of skin cancer if you:

  • have fair skin that burns easily, particularly if you also have fair hair and lots of freckles
  • expose your skin to the sun, either over long periods or for short intense periods like while on holiday
  • use sunbeds
  • have lots of moles – having more than 100 moles on your body increases your risk of skin cancer
  • have large moles (most melanomas are at least 6mm wide)
  • have people in your family who have had skin cancer
  • are taking medicines that affect your immune system

How do I check my moles?

It’s a good idea to check your skin once a month. The better you get to know your skin, the more likely you are to see any changes.

  • Stand in a well-lit room.
  • Use a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to check your body all over.
  • Make sure you check hard to see places such as your back, buttocks and scalp. If you have a partner, they can check moles in these places for you as well.
  • Check the less obvious places too, like your underarms, in between your fingers and the soles of your feet.
  • Track the size and shape of your moles by taking photographs of them next to a ruler.
  • Mark on the photographs which area of your body each picture is from to help you track any changes over time.

What should I look for when checking my moles?

You’re looking for new moles, or changes in the size, colour or shape of an existing mole. There’s a useful way of remembering what to look for called the ‘ABCDE’ rule. It stands for:

  • AAsymmetry. Do both halves of the mole look the same?
  • B – Border. Is the edge of the mole uneven or blurred?
  • C – Colour. Is the mole a mix of different shades or colours?
  • D – Diameter. Is it bigger than 6mm from side to side?
  • E – Evolution. Has the mole changed or grown?

There are a few other important things to look out for like itching, bleeding or crusting. If a mole starts to bleed and you haven’t injured it then you should get it checked by your doctor as soon as you can.

How to check your moles for signs of skin cancer (2024)


How to check your moles for signs of skin cancer? ›

Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole. Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain. Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump.

How to tell if a mole is cancerous? ›

Melanomas are often an uneven colour and contain more than one shade. A melanoma might have different shades of black, brown and pink. Normal moles usually have an even colour. If they have 2 colours in them, the colours are normally symmetrical across the 2 halves.

What are the first signs of skin cancer moles? ›

you have a mole that's changed size, shape or colour. you have a mole that's painful or itchy. you have a mole that's inflamed, bleeding or crusty. you have a new or unusual mark on your skin that has not gone away after a few weeks.

How to check a mole for skin cancer? ›

These are some changes to look out for when checking your skin for signs of any cancer:
  1. New moles.
  2. Moles that increases in size.
  3. An outline of a mole that becomes notched.
  4. A spot that changes colour from brown to black or is varied.
  5. A spot that becomes raised or develops a lump within it.

What can a cancerous mole look like? ›

Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen. Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).

What does stage 1 melanoma look like? ›

With stage I melanoma, the tumor's thickness is 1mm or less. This tumor may or may not have ulcerated, and it isn't yet believed to have spread beyond the original site.

Is melanoma flat or raised? ›

The most common type of melanoma usually appears as a flat or barely raised lesion with irregular edges and different colours. Fifty per cent of these melanomas occur in preexisting moles.

How long can you have a cancerous mole without knowing? ›

For example, certain types of skin cancer can be diagnosed initially just by visual inspection — though a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. But other cancers can form and grow undetected for 10 years or more , as one study found, making diagnosis and treatment that much more difficult.

What do suspicious moles look like? ›

A mole that does not have the same color throughout or that has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red is suspicious. Normal moles are usually a single shade of color. A mole of many shades or that has lightened or darkened should be checked by a doctor.

How quickly does a mole become cancerous? ›

"While rare, melanoma can sometimes develop in just a few months, rather than several years," says Dr. Jih. "What's more is that, in these cases, it's generally a smaller mole that is rapidly changing, but these changes are harder to spot.

Is it bad if a mole falls off? ›

Most moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away. Others will become raised so far from the skin that they may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or are rubbed off. This is the typical life cycle of the common mole and can occur over 50 years. Moles may darken, with exposure to the sun.

When to worry about moles? ›

Most moles are benign (non-cancerous). If you notice changes in a mole's color or appearance, have your mole evaluated by a dermatologist. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful.

Are raised moles normal? ›

A normal mole is usually an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised. It can be round or oval. Moles are generally less than 6 millimeters (about ¼ inch) across (about the width of a pencil eraser).

What are three warning signs a mole is becoming cancerous? ›

Any change in size, shape, color or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

Can a dermatologist tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›

Skin cancer diagnosis always requires a skin biopsy

The procedure that your dermatologist uses to remove the spot is called a skin biopsy. Having a skin biopsy is essential. It's the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. There's no other way to know for sure.

What does a precancerous mole look like? ›

They are described as “hazy” because the precancerous mole fades into the healthy skin. Color: Whereas a common mole is one color, a precancerous mole is often a mixture of various colors like brown, black, red, or blue. Diameter: The larger the mole, the more likely it is precancerous.

What does stage 1 nail melanoma look like? ›

The most common symptom of subungual melanoma is a discolored line that appears on your nail. It's usually brown or black and runs from top to bottom (vertical). In some cases, the line can be irregularly shaped and increase in length and width over time.

Can you tell if a mole is cancerous without a biopsy? ›

Having a skin biopsy is essential. It's the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. There's no other way to know for sure. What your dermatologist removes will be looked at under a microscope.

Can you have melanoma for 5 years and not know? ›

You could have melanoma for a long time before you realize it, because some types are not so obvious. Some aggressive forms, like nodular melanoma, grow fast, are visible and can hurt or bleed.” While certain groups may be at a higher risk for melanoma, anyone can get the disease.

How can I tell if a mole is suspicious? ›

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
  1. you have a mole that's changed size, shape or colour.
  2. you have a mole that's painful or itchy.
  3. you have a mole that's inflamed, bleeding or crusty.
  4. you have a new or unusual mark on your skin that has not gone away after a few weeks.

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