Know Your Spots: The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer

Know Your Spots: The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer

Ever noticed a spot on your skin that you don’t remember seeing before?

One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. An annual skin check can help identify which moles are fine and which are potentially harmful.

What Is Skin Cancer?

Unprotected sun exposure can lead to more than just red, sunburned skin; the sun’s rays can change and damage the DNA inside your skin cells. This damage triggers mutations and genetic defects which in turn can cause your skin cells to multiply rapidly, developing cancerous tumors.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, but it is also the least deadly. It manifests in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) as an open sore, red patches, pink growths or shiny bumps.

Basal Cell Carcinomas rarely spread outside of the initial site, but they can, in rare cases, spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening. If it doesn’t spread, they can cause disfiguration unless taken care of early.

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. It also occurs in the epidermis and specifically targets the cells responsible for producing melanin. It is estimated that melanoma will cause more than seven thousand deaths in 2019 alone. Thankfully, melanoma is almost always curable if caught early. Annual visits to your dermatologist and monthly self-checks are invaluable to your skin’s health and could save your life.   

Check Yourself, It Could Save Your Life

To keep an eye on your skin between visits, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends performing a self-exam every month. Spending some time getting to know your skin can make sure you notice if something changes, but how do you know the difference between a normal mole and a potentially-dangerous melanoma?

Knowing the difference between normal and abnormal is as easy as knowing your ABCs:


  • Asymmetry — Normal moles are symmetrical. If you were to draw a line down the center, you should have two mirrored halves. Irregularly-shaped moles could be cancerous – whether they’re oblong or splotchy.


  • Border — Check the edges of your moles. A healthy, benign mole will have smooth, clearly defined edges. Moles with jagged or blurry edges may also be cancerous.


  • Color — A normal mole will be one uniform color. Brown and tan are the two most common colors. If a mole fades into multiple colors or seems irregular, it may be cancerous. Melanoma lesions are commonly red, white or blue.


  • Diameter — A mole should not be big. Usually, benign moles are smaller than the eraser on the end of a pencil (about 1/4th inch or 6mm).


  • Evolving — Your moles should never change size. Once they form, a mole should look the same unless it is removed. Moles that evolve or change size may be cancerous.


If you spot any abnormal moles, call and schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. If caught early, the estimated five-year survival rate for melanoma is about 98 percent. That number drops to about 64 percent if the disease reaches the lymph nodes, so it’s better to be cautious than to wait for your next appointment.