Are you wondering if that new mole on your arm is benign or cancerous? Well, it's difficult to give a straightforward answer to what a cancerous mole looks like because there are different types of skin cancer with varying appearances. In general, a mole that is irregular in shape, has uneven colouring, or has changed in size or texture may be a cause for concern and should be examined by a professional.
Having professionals check your skin at your annual skin check is an essential part of skin cancer prevention and early detection, but checking your own skin every three months is just as important.
Keep reading to discover the difference between normal and cancerous moles as well as, how to check your own moles and recognise the warning signs of skin cancer.
Normal Mole vs Cancerous Mole - Here's the Difference
A mole develops when pigment cells called melanocytes cluster, resulting in a growth on the skin.
Most adults have 50 or more moles and they usually appear on parts of your body that are exposed to the sun. While some may be present at birth, they usually appear during childhood.
Common moles are usually small, about 6 millimetres wide, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. Their shape is round, oval or like a dome and the edges should be distinct and not jagged. They can be flat like a freckle or raised, but are more commonly raised, and they generally have a smooth surface.
Moles can be brown, black or tan or even blue, red or pink.
A cancerous mole can appear anywhere on your body. Changes of any sort in moles or spots on your skin are normally the first warning sign that it has become cancerous.
- If it changes in appearance: It may begin to grow rapidly, start to spread at the edges or in elevation, or change colour.
- If it changes in feel: It may be irritating or become itchy, causing pain, or it has started bleeding or oozing. Changes can also happen to the surface texture of a mole and it may become scaly or crusty, hard or lumpy.
- The growth of a new mole is another warning sign to look out for because these are more likely to become cancerous.
- If one particular mole looks different from others on your body, this could also indicate a problem.
If a mole or spot on your skin seems suspicious, it's important you have it seen by a doctor straight away, even if it looks different from the skin cancer pictures you have seen or an image below.
Types of skin cancer to look for
Skin cancer often has no symptoms. Although you may have multiple moles on your body, the first warning sign is usually a change in the appearance of your skin or a mole. There are different things to look out for with each type of skin cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas are most commonly found in areas exposed to the sun. They usually present as scaly or crusty red patches, elevated growths with an indentation or wart-like growths and ulcers. They can itch or bleed, and are often tender to touch.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
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, can be itchy, and scaly, and red skin may develop on and around them.
Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer and Australia has the world's highest incidence of this type of cancer.
It can appear on any area of your body, normally on parts that have seen too much sun exposure. However, it can also appear without a history of sun damage or burns. It's for this reason that researchers believe genetics may play a role in the development of melanoma in some people.
In rare cases, melanoma can even affect the mouth and eyes. It can grow rapidly and quickly spread to other parts of the body, which is what makes it so dangerous.
Less Known Facts on Melanoma
Melanomas can sometimes appear as an irregular, dark, or changing mole (see below for more information on melanoma warning signs). However, they can also appear colourless or as a pink spot or bump.
Melanoma often begins as brown or black streaks under a toe or fingernail which can sometimes be mistaken for a bruise. They can also appear as a new mole or spot on your skin.
Less than half of all melanomas diagnosed are found in pre-existing moles.
How and where to look for cancerous moles
Look for the features below to help spot cancerous moles. With this advice, you can perform a skin check on yourself at home. Always seek the support of a skin cancer doctor for an accurate mole diagnosis if something seems suspicious.
How to look for cancer warning signs in a mole
There is an easy way to remember what to look out for when checking your own moles for possible signs of melanoma: ABCDE.
The ABCDE Checklist for checking your own moles
- Asymmetry A – If the mole you are looking at has two distinct-looking halves it is asymmetrical
- Border B – the mole has a fuzzy, irregular or jagged border
- Colour C – the mole has varied shades or is especially dark
- Diameter D – the mole is larger than 6mm
- Evolving E – the mole is changing, growing larger, or changing in shape, size or colour
How to examine your body for changes to a mole
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 fingers and each toenail), so make sure to check those, too.
While the first two are usually found in areas frequently exposed to the sun, melanomas can also develop on rarely exposed areas like your back or the inside of your legs. That’s why it’s extra important to take the time to check those areas too.
Visit a doctor for any concerning moles on your skin
There are certain risk factors that worsen your skin cancer risk. If you fall into any of the below categories, it's even more important to have your skin checked regularly, and your doctor may recommend more frequent visits.
Risk factors that worsen skin cancer risk
- A family history of skin cancer. Statistically, you are more likely to develop skin cancer if a family member has been diagnosed.
- Fair skin, hair and eyes. People with fair hair, skin or eyes are more susceptible to sun damage and more likely to develop skin cancer.
- A large number of moles. If you have more than 100 moles on your body, your risk of skin cancer is significantly higher than average.
- Atypical moles. Atypical moles can resemble cancerous moles because they are generally quite large and can have irregular borders. Although benign, having a lot of these types of moles can increase your melanoma risk.
- Lots of sunburns. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer.
- Frequent indoor tanning: Indoor tanning beds expose you to unnecessary ultraviolet radiation.
If you notice one of your moles changing or showing any of the ABCDE signs, put your health first and book an appointment for a skin check right away.
The doctors at SunDoctors believe everyone has the right to the best skin cancer detection and treatment. That's why they offer a range of services to keep you in optimum health and your skin looking its best. If you have any questions about a skin check, simply call 13 SKIN (13 75 46) or visit sundoctors.com.au.