Be Alert to Skin Cancer

Skin cancers often start out as changes to the skin. Some start out as growths and change over time. That’s why it is important to be familiar with any growths or moles you have, know the early warning signs of skin cancer, and get checked out by a physician. It is estimated 40-50% of fair-skinned people 65 years or older develop at least one skin cancer during their lifetime. If found and treated early, skin cancer can be cured.

Check your entire body for moles or suspicious spots at least monthly. Start at your head, including your scalp, and progress to your feet. Check the back of your knees, between fingers and toes, and the soles of your feet and your groin. Checking for suspicious moles should be done on people of all ages and if you have lots of moles, your doctor may recommend having a yearly full body check.

An easy method to check skin growths/moles on your body is called the ABCDE’s of melanoma. If you have a mole or freckle that looks different from the others, or have any characteristics of the ABCDE’s of melanoma listed below, get examined by a dermatologist:

“A” is for asymmetry. Asymmetry means one half of a mole does not “match” the other half. Normal moles are symmetrical. A good way to evaluate this is to draw an imaginary line through the middle of the mole and compare the two halves. If they do NOT look the same, consult a dermatologist.

“B” is for border. If the edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, have it checked out. Melanoma lesions often have uneven borders.

“C” is for color. A mole that is not the same color throughout or that has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red is suspicious. “Normal” moles are usually one color and if one has gotten lighter or darker in color, talk to a dermatologist.

“D” is for diameter. A mole is suspicious if the diameter is larger than a pencil eraser. If you have one that is that size or larger, talk to your doctor.

“E” is for evolving. A mole that is evolving, that is shrinking, getting larger, changing in color, beginning to itch or bleed, get it checked. Melanomas grow in height and size rapidly.  

If you find a mole/spot with any of the ABCDE’s of melanoma, or one that is itchy, tender, red, tender, oozing, scaly, or that doesn’t heal, consult with your doctor. Likely, part of it will be removed and biopsied. If the mole is cancerous, the entire mole and surrounding tissue will be removed.

Malignant melanoma when found in late stages is difficult to treat, so it is important to find it early. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are other types of skin cancer that are highly curable when found and treated early. People who have had skin cancer are at risk for getting it again, and should have annual exams.

Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer. Heredity, environmental hazards and radiation treatment may also play a part in it. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greater for people with fair skin and light-colored eyes, people with large amounts of large and irregular shaped moles, family history of skin cancer, history or excessive sun exposure or sunburns, or live at high altitudes or year-round sunshine.

If you are at risk, limit your exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays between 10:00am and 4:00pm, use sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher, wear a hat and sunglasses, and cover up your body. Young infants should be kept out of direct sun and begin using sunscreen on children at six months of age and then allow only moderate sun exposure. Teach your children sun protection early since sun damage occurs with each unprotected sun exposure and accumulates over the course of a lifetime


  • WebMD, Precancerous Skin Lesions and Skin Cancer Slideshow, The Warning Signs of Skin Cancer, reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, August 20, 2020.
  • American Academy of Dermatology Association, 23-420-CNM