Mind your moles: Look for changes that may signal cancer

March 1, 2017

When was the last time you got up close and personal with your moles? If it's been awhile, it's time to iStock-157619687.jpgcheck them out. The more familiar you are with your moles, the more likely you'll notice if they start to look different—or if any new ones crop up.

That's important because a change in a mole's size, shape or color is one of the main signs of melanoma—an aggressive type of skin cancer that, if not treated, can spread to other parts of the body and be deadly.

Think ugly

Nearly everyone has moles, and they're almost always harmless. Normal moles are usually oval or round, about 1/4 inch across, and the same color—brown, tan or black—all over.

Potential signs of melanoma include moles that:

  • Look different from other moles (known as the ugly duckling sign).
  • Get bigger.
  • Have unusual shapes; uneven edges; or shades of colors, including white, red or blue.
  • Ooze, bleed or become scaly.

Sores or bruises that won't heal or growths that feel itchy or tender can also signal melanoma.

If you have any of these signs, talk with your doctor. He or she will likely do a skin exam and may suggest a biopsy in which a small amount of suspect tissue is removed and examined under a microscope for cancer cells.

Treatment is almost always effective when melanoma is found early.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute

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