Can You Tell Good Moles from Bad? Know the Warning Signs for Skin Cancer

As a massage therapist, I spend a lot of time looking at skin. In fact, I look at a lot of skin people can’t easily see without a mirror or camera – the back, the back of the legs, posterior arms, etc. Occasionally, when I see a mole that looks different or a little suspicious, I mention it to clients. It’s hard to see your own back, and when I’m working with people who live alone, I take extra care to let them know about what I see.

Skin cancer can be deadly, especially if it’s not caught until it’s late stage. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lives and over 2 million people are diagnosed annually with skin cancer. Chances are you know someone who has had skin cancer or had moles removed and tested for cancer cells. To keep from becoming part of that statistic, start a regular examination of your body for moles and know what to look for.

Since both my parents have recently been diagnosed with skin cancer, I wanted to refresh my memory and yours about suspicious moles and lesions on the skin. There’s an easy acronym to remember what to look for when watching out for skin cancer: know your ABCDEs.


Normal moles are symmetrical. This means that if you draw a line down the middle of them (the diameter) they will look the same on each side of the line. This applies both to the shape of the mole and the elevation of the mole above the skin. Moles which are asymmetrical and don’t match up well side to side need to checked by a physician to rule out skin cancer.


Typical moles have a smooth border. Moles with a jagged, notched or blurry edge may indicate melanoma or other skin cancer.


If the mole has more than one color or skin tone to it, you’ll want to have it checked out by a physician. Normal moles are a single color or shade. Atypical moles might have two or more colors, e.g. two shades of brown, or browns, pinks and reds together. In addition, if a previously monotone mole starts to change in color, you may be at risk for developing skin cancer in that area.


Moles the size of a pencil eraser or smaller are well within normal size. Moles larger than the diameter or a pencil eraser should be assessed.


If the mole is evolving, changing in shape, color, texture, or if it begins to itch or bleed, you should have it examined. Melanomas can grow or change quickly, so take note if a mole starts changing and get an assessment from your physician. Also take note of a change in height of the mole as that can indicate skin cancer.


One way to track moles is to check them once a month. You can do a visual assessment yourself, or have a spouse or family member check you. Taking dated pictures will allow you to track changes easily and will be helpful to your physician or dermatologist in establishing a timeline for skin growth. Make sure you check your back, buttocks, posterior legs and as much of your scalp as you can. Skin cancer doesn’t always form in areas of high sun exposure on the body. If you find anything atypical, consult your physician.

Suspicious Moles Can Appear on Genitals and Retinas

Don’t forget that skin cancer/cancerous moles can also grow on the genitals and in the eye. If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer or suspicious moles, mention it to your gynecologist and your ophthamologist so that they can check the eyes and genitals as you are examined.

Skin cancer in very treatable when caught early, but you need to know what to keep an eye out for on your skin. Just remember your ABCDE’s and you’ll be ahead of the game.

1 Comment »

  1. skin cancer dermatologist said,

    November 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm

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