In the dermatology clinic, a very common question from patients is, “How do I know my mole is OK?” In all honesty, this is a very difficult question to answer with a straight-forward response. It takes years of looking at moles and other skin lesions to be able to tell what is harmless and what needs to be removed.
However, there are a few rules you should follow as you evaluate your moles at home. I will summarize them here, but be sure to visit this American Academy of Dermatology’s web page to view some helpful photos of abnormal moles, too.
1. The ABCDEs of Melanoma Rule. This is the most well-known guideline for patients.
- Asymmetry: If you fold your mole up like a taco-shell and the two sides don’t match, this is considered asymmetry and is a sign of an abnormal mole.
- Border: The outside borders of a mole should be nice and round, not scalloped like a flower.
- Color: Moles ideally are one uniform color – not a mix of different colors or shades.
- Diameter: In general, most cancerous moles (melanomas) are larger than a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: This is one of the most important rules. If your mole is changing, get it checked out!
2. The Ugly Duckling Rule. Many people have hundreds of moles – and that’s OK! However, if one of your moles sticks out like a sore thumb from all the others, it’s worth getting it checked. This is one reason why a dermatologist will ask to see all your moles when you come in for a skin check – we not only want to look at the mole in question, but we also want to compare that mole to all the other moles on your skin!
3. The Itching or Bleeding Mole Rule. A mole can itch or bleed for a number of reasons – it might have been caught on clothing or scratched in the shower, it might have a mosquito bite nearby, or it might have developed a pimple within it. But sometimes an itchy, bleeding mole is a sign of something worse – maybe even skin cancer – so get these moles checked out.
4. The “It Just Doesn’t Seem Right” Rule. Maybe your mole doesn’t look that bad, doesn’t itch or bleed, and isn’t changing at all – but you just can’t stop wondering if it’s OK. This is a perfectly good reason to get your mole checked. Sometimes patients have an intuition about their bodies that can’t be explained by “Rules.”
The Bottom Line: Pay attention to your skin. If you see a mole that causes you concern, don’t just watch it – get it checked out. You might save your life!