What Skin Cancer Looks Like: Do This Mole Check Now

A guide to inspecting your body for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

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Who should check for skin cancer symptoms?

iStock/Susan Chiang

Everyone should get familiar with the beauty marks and moles on their body. Individuals of Irish, Scottish, English, and Nordic descent are usually fairer, and thus more at risk for skin cancer. And if you have a family history of melanoma, or more than 50 moles on your body, see a dermatologist at least once a year, according to Brian Hinds, MD, and Anna Di Nardo, MD, of the University of California, San Diego. But if you are someone who spends loads of time in the sun, it’s smart to get checked by a doctor no matter what type of skin you have. These are surprising places you didn’t know you could get skin cancer.

What to look for: Asymmetrical moles

Courtesy The American Academy of Dermatology

The first thing to look out for in skin cancer is asymmetry. If you were to fold this melanoma in half, it wouldn’t match.

What to look for: Poorly defined borders

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Notice how the borders are not sharp, like a typical beauty mark. “The borders here look clover-leafy,” says Anna Pavlick, DO, a medical oncologist with NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

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What to look for: Color variation

iStock/selvanegra

If the mole’s color changes from one area to the other, see a dermatologist. This melanoma’s pigment ranges from dark brown in the center, to tan, to almost pink at the borders that bleed into the skin. Skin cancer can also appear black, white, red or blue. This is the worst skin advice dermatologists have ever heard.

What to look for: Size

iStock/Bartek Tomczyk

Melanomas are usually larger than 6 mm in size, about the size of a pencil eraser, but can start much smaller when they’re first diagnosed. “Depending on the depth, how deep the mole grows down under the skin, that will dictate the surgical procedure to remove it,” says Dr. Pavlick. Once the melanoma gets to be greater than a millimeter, doctors will usually take away 2 millimeters beyond the mole to ensure all the cancer has been removed.

What to look for: Moles that change over time

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Keep an eye out for moles that begin to look unfamiliar. Beauty marks that evolve, changing in color, shape, and size can signify melanoma. These are skin cancer risk factors you might not know about.

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Where to check: Hands and feet

iStock/Juanmonino

In addition to the rest of your body, be sure to look over palms and the bottom of your feet regularly, according to Dr. Hinds. Moles in this area can often go unnoticed and are therefore diagnosed much later, leading to thicker and bigger tumors.


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