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What does a cancerous mole look like?

Although having professionals check your skin at your annual skin check is an essential part of skin cancer prevention and early detection, checking your own skin every three months is just as important. Here’s our easy guide on how to check your own skin and recognise the warning signs of skin cancer.


How and where to look


It’s easiest to do this with someone who you’re close with so that they can help you with areas of your skin that you can’t reach easily. If you don’t have someone to help, you can also check your back, buttocks and the back of your legs in a mirror and use a handheld mirror for areas like your scalp. Some areas are easy to forget (like the areas between your fingers and toes, the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands and underneath your finger and toenails) so make sure to check those, too.


The three different types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanomas) can be located in very different areas. While the first two are usually found in areas frequently exposed to the sun, melanomas can also develop on such rarely exposed areas as your back or the inside of your legs. That’s why it’s extra important to take the time to check those areas, too.


What to look for

There are different things to look out for with each type of skin cancer.


Squamous cell carcinomas are most commonly found in areas exposed to the suns. They usually present as scaly red patches, elevated growths with an indentation or as wart-like growths and ulcers. They are often tender to touch.


Basal cell carcinomas can have varied appearances. They can present as an open sore, a reddish patch, or an elevated growth that is indented in the middle. Early warning signs include bumps, nodules and areas that look like a scar. Basal cell carcinomas may also look like flesh-coloured moles at first. If they are present in the face, they may even be mistaken for a pimple that won’t go away. However, they will bleed easily, and scaly, red skin may develop on and around them.


Melanomas often appear as irregular, dark, and changing moles. There is an easy way to remember what to look out for when checking your own moles for possible signs of melanoma: ABCDE. This stands for:


  • Asymmetry – the mole you are looking at has two distinct looking halves
  • Border irregularity – the mole has a fuzzy or jagged border
  • Colour – the mole has varied shades or is especially dark
  • Diameter – the mole is larger than 6mm
  • Evolving – the mole is changing in any of the aforementioned criteria


If you notice one of your moles changing or showing any of the ABCDE signs, book an appointment for a skin check right away to make sure that possible lesions are caught early and can be treated swiftly. Melanomas, even though they are the most aggressive type of skin cancer, have a very good prognosis if they are caught early.