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For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings, or changes in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer, or a warning that it might occur.
A normal mole is usually an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised. It can be round or oval. Moles are generally less than 6 millimeters (about ¼ inch) across (about the width of a pencil eraser). Some moles can be present at birth, but most appear during childhood or young adulthood. New moles that appear later in life should be checked by a doctor.
Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape, and color for many years. Some moles may eventually fade away.
Most people have moles, and almost all moles are harmless. But it’s important to recognize changes in a mole – such as in its size, shape, color, or texture – that can suggest a melanoma may be developing.
The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color.
Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign).
If you have one of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.
The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:
Some melanomas don’t fit these rules. It’s important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.
Other warning signs are:
Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you and ask your doctor to look at areas that may be hard for you to see. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between melanoma and an ordinary mole, even for doctors, so it’s important to show your doctor any mole that you are unsure of.
To see examples of normal moles and melanomas, visit the Skin Cancer Image Gallery on our website.
Remember, too, that a small portion of melanomas start in places other than the skin, such as under a fingernail or toenail, inside the mouth, or even in the colored part of the eye (iris), so it’s important to show a doctor any new or changing spots in these areas as well.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Last Revised: August 14, 2019
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