How to check moles for cancer

Skin cancer is becoming more and more common, but catching it early can greatly increase its treatability. So it’s important to be familiar with your body and regularly check your skin for any cancerous moles. Below we talk about what you should expect from a normal, benign mole and what signs should be alarm bells for something more dangerous.

cancerous moles

What is a normal mole?

Moles are small, often brownish coloured, spots on the skin that are made up of cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the pigment in the skin which causes you to tan. Though moles are commonly brown, some may be darker or even skin-coloured. A normal mole can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some have hair growing from them. They are usually a circular or oval shape with a smooth circumference.

Sometimes a change in the number of moles you have or of their appearance can be attributed to hormonal changes, for example:

  • In your teenage years, they can increase in number.
  • During pregnancy, they may get slightly darker.
  • As you age, reaching 40 to 50 and onwards, moles may begin to disappear.

Types of Moles

There are many different looking moles, the most common in appearance are:

  • Brown, round and flat
  • Raised, pale and sometimes hairy
  • Raised above the skin, light brown and sometimes hairy

Rarer types of moles include:

  • Moles surrounded by a white ring where the skin has lost its colour
  • Can be unusual looking and slightly larger than most moles. They also can be a range of colours and either flat or bumpy
  • Dark blue moles

Cancerous Moles

While most moles are completely harmless, you should check your skin every few months for any new moles that develop or for any change in existing moles. This is increasingly important after your teenage years when new moles are less common. Most are often benign, but some can develop into melanoma, which is a serious and aggressive type of skin cancer.

Melanomas (cancerous moles) usually appear as a new dark, fast-growing spot where there was not one before or an existing mole changes in size, shape or colour and bleeds, itches or reddens.

cancerous moles

How to check moles for cancer

There are certain changes that occur in a mole which can indicate that it has become melanoma. If you see any of these symptoms, visit your GP immediately.

  • There is an uneven colouring. (Most moles only have one or two colours, but cancerous moles have lots of different shades).
  • Your mole(s) have an uneven or jagged edge.
  • It has begun to bleed, itch, become red, inflamed (swollen) or crusty.
  • It has gotten a lot bigger. (Regular moles are no bigger than the width of a pencil)

A helpful way to remember what to look for is to use the ABCDE method.

  • A – asymmetry
  • B – border irregularity
  • C – colour change
  • D – diameter
  • E – elevated (raised) or enlarged

Preventing Cancerous Moles

To significantly reduce your chance of developing melanoma, it’s important to take extra care in the sun, especially if you have lots of moles.

  • Avoid UV exposure where possible.
  • Stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (between 11 am and 3 pm).
  • Cover up with long sleeved clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid using sunbeds because they emit harmful UV rays.
  • Use a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF15) and reapply it regularly, particularly after swimming or perspiring.
  • Make sure your sunscreen has broad-spectrum UV protection and does not just say SPF on it. ZO sunscreen’s all include broad-spectrum UV protection.  Dr Obagi has also formulated a brand new triple spectrum of sun protection, going beyond superficial protection to really give you the safest sunscreen on the market.

Find out more about ZO’s Triple-Spectrum sun protection here. 

Need help choosing the right suncare for you? Click here.