Worried about a mole? Here's how to tell if it could turn into skin cancer

a woman checking moles on her cheek in the mirror
How to tell if your mole could become skin cancerWestend61 - Getty Images

We're forever warned about looking after our skin in order to prevent skin cancer, especially with more celebrities opening up about being diagnosed with the condition as of late. Take presenter and radio DJ Chris Evans, for example, who spoke out about having melanoma this summer (thankfully caught early and treatable), Khloé Kardashian who shared her experience with the disease on the third season of The Kardashians, and Molly-Mae Hague who was advised to have a mole on her leg removed.

So, to help look after your health, take this as your reminder to pay special attention to your moles. But while it's all well and good saying that, how do you know what you're actually looking out for when checking a mole?

From what mole changes need keeping a closer eye on to whether or not black moles are okay, the bottom line is that it's important to clue yourself up on the tell-tale signs of what's potentially cancerous and what's not. Because after all, this all-important info can be life-saving and help to offer reassurance.

To find out more about cancerous moles, including the key things to spot, we spoke to Claire Crilly, skin cancer screening specialist at The MOLE Clinic...

woman checking benign moles
Albina Gavrilovic - Getty Images

How to check your moles

First things first. We should all self-monitor our moles every three months (yep, you should be checking in winter as well as summer!), Crilly says, and this can be done at home using what is known as the 'ABCDE' technique:

A - Asymmetry

Look for moles that are asymmetrical in shape, where one half of the mole is unlike the other.

B - Irregular border

Does the mole have an irregular border? Is it scalloped (unusual edges), jagged or poorly defined?

C - Irregular colour

Is the colour of the mole different from one area to another or does it have different shades of tan, brown or black?

D - Diameter

Check the diameter of the mole to see if it is bigger than 6mm (about the size of the end of a pencil).

E - Evolution

Is the mole evolving or changing size, shape or colour?

"Any new or changing moles should be seen by a skin cancer specialist," advises Crilly, who makes the helpful point that: "Moles are like a family, there should always be another mole that looks similar."

With that in mind, "if you have a mole on its own and looks as if it does not fit on your body, seek professional guidance from a skin cancer specialist."

What's more, Crilly notes that "some people are at higher risk of melanoma than others due to, for example, family history of melanoma, personal history, having over 100 moles, or atypical moles and should be monitored according to the above guidelines."

Cancerous moles

Moles come in all shapes and sizes, but some moles risk turning into skin cancer. These are the signs to look out for that a mole needs to be seen by an expert...

Your mole is... asymmetrical

Benign (non-cancerous) moles tend to be symmetrical. If you were to place an imaginary mirror in a line in the middle of the mole, it should be the same on either side. Remember, all moles are individual to the person, and no moles will be perfect. If a mole is asymmetrical, seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.

Your mole is... raised above the skin

There are multiple reasons why raised moles occur, the main one being a healthy benign intradermal mole (typically dome-shamed), which can be genetic, long-standing, soft and sometimes wobbly to touch. As they age, they may lose colour or get darker, and so should be monitored for drastic change. Generally though, they aren't cause for concern.

However, moles that change and become raised could be an indication of melanoma, and as mentioned previously, if a mole changes, seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.

Your mole is... big

Some moles may be big due to the type of mole they are, for example a congenital mole (also known as a birthmark) which are present from birth and do not tend to change. But, due to their size and dark pigment they are at higher risk for melanoma, so keep an eye out for any changes or for any of the symptoms listed in the 'ABCDE' guide above.

dermatologist examining patient
stefanamer - Getty Images

Your mole has... many colours

In a nutshell, if your mole has multiple colours you should seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.

Your mole is... black/very dark in colour

Depending on your skin type, your moles may well be darker in colour. But by checking each of them regularly, you'll know what is normal for you. Note: if your mole is dark in colour and different to others on your body, or if it has changed in colour to become dark, do seek advice from a skin specialist.

Some people may also develop a lentigo – also known as an ink spot – which is an extremely black but benign mole. Nevertheless, it is always safe to have these lesions assessed due to the dark pigment.

Your mole is... growing in size or changing shape

Moles can change over your lifetime, which means there's scope for them to become darker, lighter, larger, fade or even disappear completely. It's important to note that these changes should never be drastic or happen in a short space of time. Rather, if you experience any of the above, do seek advice from a specialist as soon as you can.

woman with short blonde hair from behind
Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images

Your mole has... an uneven border

If your mole has an uneven border this can be a sign of change, and again this needs to be assessed by a professional.

Your mole is... itchy or sore

Large intradermal moles may catch on items of clothing which can cause them to be itchy or sore. However, if you have an itchy or sore mole you must seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.

Separately, if you have a hair growing out of your mole (which is common, our bodies are covered in hair!), this is usually a harmless sign. But as ever, if you're worried about it or it looks different to usual (or anything else you've noticed), still check it with a professional!

For more information and images of potentially cancerous moles, visit this NHS website page. For support or any questions around skin cancer, you can contact Melanoma UK on 0808 171 2455.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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