Recognizing Skin Cancer

Doing monthly skin checkups is the best way to find new marks or skin changes. During your skin checkups, be sure to follow the ABCDEs of skin checks. This means checking moles or other growths for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving (changing). Note, too, any new growths, or, if any of your growths bleed, itch, look different, or are painful.

The ABCDEs of skin checks

Check your moles or growths for signs of melanoma using ABCDE:

  • Asymmetry: the sides of the mole or growth don’t match

  • Border: the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred

  • Color: the color within the mole or growth varies

  • Diameter: the mole or growth is larger than 6 mm (size of a pencil eraser)

  • Evolving: the size, shape, or color of the mole or growth is changing (evolving is not shown below)

Mole with asymmetrical shape. Mole with uneven, blurry borders. Mole with dark and light spots. Mole with 6 mm measurement across diameter.


In addition to the ABCDEs, other warning signs of skin cancer include:

  • A spot or mole that looks different from all other marks on your skin

  • Changes in how an area feels, such as itching, tenderness, or pain

  • Changes in the skin's surface, such as oozing, bleeding, or scaliness

  • A sore that does not heal

  • New swelling or redness beyond the border of a mole

Who’s at risk?

Anyone can get skin cancer. But you are at greater risk if you have:

  • Fair skin, light-colored hair, or light-colored eyes

  • Many moles or abnormal moles on your skin

  • A history of sunburns from sunlight or tanning beds

  • A family history of skin cancer

  • A history of exposure to radiation or chemicals

  • A weakened immune system

Also, a personal history of skin cancer puts you at risk for recurring skin cancer.

How to check your skin

Do your monthly skin checkups in front of a full-length mirror. Check all parts of your body, including your:

  • Head (ears, face, neck, and scalp)

  • Torso (front, back, and sides)

  • Arms (tops, undersides, upper, and lower armpits)

  • Hands (palms, backs, and fingers, including under the nails)

  • Buttocks and genitals

  • Legs (front, back, and sides)

  • Feet (tops, soles, toes, including under the nails, and between toes)

If you have a lot of moles, take digital photos of them each month. Make sure to take photos both up close and from a distance. These can help you see if any moles change over time.

When to seek medical treatment

Most skin changes are not cancer. But if you see any changes in your skin, call your doctor right away. Only he or she can diagnose a problem. If you have skin cancer, seeing your doctor can be the first step toward getting the treatment that could save your life.