Identifying Skin Cancer: Are You at Risk?

Identifying Skin Cancer
Could You Have a Cancerous Mole?
Unusual blemishes, markings, sores, lumps or changes to a mole’s appearance could be symptomatic of skin cancer.

Check your moles each month using the “ABCDE” guidelines (asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter increase, evolution), in addition to keeping an eye out for changes to a mole’s surface and pigmentation. Keep in mind that not all cancerous moles will exhibit these symptoms. Should you be unsure about the appearance of any mole, schedule an appointment with your skin care professional. Early detection is key to making a successful recovery from skin cancer.

Are you at risk for skin cancer? While regularly wearing sunscreen or an SPF moisturizer can help reduce your risk for skin cancer, it is not possible to prevent all occurrences. That’s why it is critical that you regularly check your skin for the warning symptoms of cancer.

Early detection is critical to the successful treatment of skin cancer. This starts by being vigilant about the appearance of your moles. A normal mole is typically an even brown, tan or black color. Normal moles can be flat or raised. Some are present since birth, while many others appear during childhood or early adulthood. Once a mole develops, it typically stays the same shape, color and size for many years. A skin care professional should check moles that develop later in life or suddenly change in appearance – this is a warning sign that a melanoma may be developing.

Most moles on the body look similar to one another. A mole or freckle that looks different from the other moles – or has the “ABCDE” characteristics described below – could be cancerous. While the “ABCDE” criteria won’t catch every single case of cancerous moles, it is an important part of early skin cancer identification. Here’s what to look for:

“A” for asymmetry
“B” for irregular border
“C” for color variation
“D” for diameter greater than 6mm
“E” for evolution or change in appearance

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are typically found on parts of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun. This includes the face, arms, neck and hands. Melanoma is less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, but it is more serious. While melanomas are usually brown or black, but they can also appear tan, white or pink. Other symptoms of possible skin cancer include a sore that does not heal, a change in sensation (e.g. itchiness, tenderness or pain), a change in the surface of the mole (e.g. scaliness, oozing or bleeding), and the spread of pigment from the mole to the surrounding skin.

When checking your moles, keep in mind that you may have moles in places that are difficult for you to see without a mirror, like your back. It’s important to have your skin care professional  regularly check all your moles, including those that are difficult to see. Early detection significantly increases the likelihood for successfully recovering from skin cancer.


American Skin Cancer Foundation. “Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer.” October 29, 2013.

Scope, Alon, M.D. “The Ugly Duckling Sign.” The Skin Care Foundation, 2014.