What Does Melanoma Look Like? Checking Moles for ABCDE

Melanoma is a cancerous mole that can be fatal if not detected and treated in time. It is important to check for suspicious moles at least once per year to be able to detect possible problems as early as possible. Checking moles for asymmetry, borders, color, diameter or evolution (ABCDE) is an easy way to identify skin lesions that may be melanomas.

Where to Check

Moles can be present on the entire surface of the body, so it is essential to have a system of checking these moles. Start with the face area; take a careful look at the nose, lips, inside the mouth, near the hairline, the scalp and ears (have someone check behind the ears as well or get a mirror). Check the back of the neck also.

Check the palms and back of the hands, in the area between fingers or fingernails. Analyze your forearms and arms, making sure not to forget the sides of the arms. The underarms should be carefully inspected. Then check the chest area; women should take a look at the area under the beasts as well.

Continue with the back, shoulders and buttocks, the genital area and the back side of the legs. Get to the front side of the legs also. Don’t forget to examine the feet, between the toes and the sole of the foot.

If you find any mole that looks suspicious, you should also apply the ABCDE method.

Checking for ABCDE

Moles are common in people; if you have some moles, it is important to monitor them and see if they change in time. Pay attention to any change in shape, size or color. If the moles bleed, this is a warning sign.

You should use the ABCDE guide (the mnemonic ABCDE) to establish if your need to visit a dermatologist. The mnemonic ABCDE is explained as follows:

  • A stands for asymmetry; if the mole is asymmetric, this may be suspicious
  • B stands for border; the borders of a melanoma are typically irregular
  • C is for color; melanomas have 2 or several colors--typically benign moles have a tan brown color
  • D is the diameter of the mole; measure it and if the diameter exceeds 6 mm, the mole is suspicious--smaller moles may not be cancerous
  • E may stand for evolution, elevation or enlarging; if the mole gets larger in a short period of time, this should be a warning sign

The only potential problem with the ABCDE system is the diameter; melanomas occur as small dots and evolve, so it is important to check for the other factors as well and report any mole that may be smaller than 6 mm, but has irregular shape, color or is asymmetric.

Also, a seborrheic keratosis may meet all the ABCDE criteria, but is a harmless skin lesion, so it is important to visit a dermatologist and get some tests.

Have specific questions?

All Article Categories

Before & After Photos

Suggested Doctors

Recently Asked Questions