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Recognize skin cancer: Know your ABCDE's

What’s in a mole?

Normal, or ordinary moles, are evenly colored, round or oval in shape, and have well-defined, sharp borders. They are usually smaller in size (<6mm) and may be present from birth. Many moles fade with age. Some examples of normal moles are shown below1.

Normal brown moleExamples of normal moles


An easy-to-remember rule for recognizing potential skin cancer is the ABCDE's. Don’t be afraid! Perform a monthly skin self-exam and get your skin checked by a doctor if you notice any of the following characteristics:

  • Asymmetry: Moles that do not look the same on either side.
  • Border: Uneven, notched, scalloped, undefined or otherwise irregular borders.
  • Color: Multiple colors in one mole or uneven color distribution; shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red.
  • Diameter: Moles wider than ¼ inch (6mm), or about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: Spots that change in size, shape or color over time or look “different” from others.

Other warning signs

Many melanomas and other skin cancers do not have typical warning signs (ABCDE’s). See your doctor for evaluation if you notice any of these abnormal signs or symptoms:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Pigment that spreads from the border into nearby skin
  • Spots that suddenly begin to itch or hurt
  • Mole surface changes: oozing, bleeding, appearance of nodules or bumps
  • Spots that simply “stand out” from others

1: Left: Skin Cancer Foundation; Right: National Cancer Institute

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