How to Recognize Signs of Skin Cancer

Use the ABCD technique if you see any new or growing dark spots.
Use the ABCD technique if you see any new or growing dark spots. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. By performing monthly self-exams, you can identify areas on your body that may be developing skin cancer. Skin cancer, or melanoma, is the abnormal development of cells, and it generally manifests as irregular moles or dark patches. Experts recognize two major types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, the most common kind; and squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form. Generally, skin cancer develops in areas of the body that receive repeated exposure to the sun. To successfully identify potential trouble spots, learn to recognize signs of skin cancer using the ABCD technique, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. Early detection provides the best chances for a complete recovery.

"A" Is for "Asymmetry"

When you examine each mole on your body, look for asymmetry. "Draw" an imaginary line through the center of the mole to see if the sides match. Common moles are fairly symmetrical, but skin cancer spots generally have sides that don't appear the same. Not all asymmetrical moles lead to skin cancer, but examining them on a frequent basis is a good first step in identifying trouble areas.

"B" Is for "Border"

Inspect the borders of each mole or dark spot closely. Common moles have a clear, smooth border between the darkened mole and lighter skin. The borders of an early melanoma are often uneven, with an unclear distinction between healthy skin and the darkened area. The edges of the mole may look notched, uneven or feathered.

"C" Is for "Color"

The coloration of common moles differs when compared to a developing melanoma. Common moles appear in a range of color, from light tan to dark brown, but they are generally uniform; in other words, common moles are all one color. If you spot a mole with several different colors within it, it could be a sign of melanoma. Look for several different shades of brown, tan and black in a single darkened area. Sometimes, a melanoma may even include blue, red or white.

"D" Is for "Diameter"

Measure the diameter of moles or dark patches. Diameter is the total distance across the mole. While common moles can be large, most are smaller than 6 millimeters, or 1/4 inch. Look for early melanoma to grow fairly rapidly from a small patch to exceed 1/4 inch in diameter. A good rule of thumb is to compare the mole to a pencil eraser; if the mole is growing and eventually exceeds 1/4 inch, make an appointment to see your doctor for further evaluation.

Additional Determiners

In addition to watching your moles or any growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any way, also look for lesions that "change, itch, bleed," reports the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Tips & Warnings

  • If a mole is of unusual color, it is a potential sign of skin cancer.
  • If you are regularly exposed to the sun for long periods of time, have a regular skin cancer screening.
  • Limit your direct exposure to the sun and wear high SPF sunscreen and sunglasses with UVF protection.
  • See related articles on this page for more helpful information.

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