Skin Cancer, Melanoma Awareness, Skin Checks

How do I know if it's melanoma?

The ABCDE & EFG rules of melanoma in this guide are a useful place to start.

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Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 11/08/20
What melanoma looks like

The ABCDE & EFG rules are a handy guide when checking for signs of melanoma. Over the next 8 months, we'll cover each of these guidelines, starting with the letter 'A' for Asymmetry.

These guidelines are endorsed by many non-profit skin cancer authorities around the world, including the Melanoma Institute of Australia. When checking your skin, or the skin of your loved ones, look out for the following:

A and image

A is for Asymmetry

So what does 'asymmetry' mean, and what does it look like?

An asymmetric mole is one that's irregular-shaped, uneven or lop-sided - where one half doesn't match the other.

In general, normal moles are evenly-coloured in brown, tan or black, and either flat or raised on the skin. They're usually fairly symmetrical too.

How do I know what melanoma looks like

Image: normal moles are often oval-shaped, evenly coloured, and create either raised or flat surfaces on the skin

If you notice any mole on your skin that is irregular in shape, it would pay to get it checked - it could be an early warning sign of melanoma.

MM technology

Above: to an untrained eye, melanoma can look much like any other spot. At MoleMap, our Melanographers use special 'dermatoscopes' and other high resolution imaging equipment to look deep inside a mole’s structure. For medium-to-high risk patients, our skin-mapping technology is used to track changes over time.

B and image

B is for Borders

In normal moles, the borders or ‘edges’ of are fairly round and evenly formed. If you notice that the edges are becoming ragged, notched, scalloped, blurred or irregular - or if the pigment is starting to spread into the skin outside the mole - that’s not so normal. It could be an early warning sign of melanoma, so it’s a good idea to get it checked as soon as possible.

Borders rule melanoma

Image: these moles with unusual borders were diagnosed as melanoma

C is for Colour

Moles can be all sorts of different colours – that’s quite normal. Most commonly, they’re an evenly coloured spot on the skin, either flat or raised, round or oval. They can be flesh coloured, tan, brown or even black – and they can also darken over time or from exposure to the sun.

C and image

Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape, and color for many years. However ... if a mole is changing in colour rapidly or suddenly, is uneven in colour and/or has multiple colours in it (including differing shades of brown, tan or black, or patches of pink, red, white or blue) it may be of concern and you should get it checked out straight away.

You should also watch out for:

  • Moles that are large and brownish with darkening speckles.
  • The pigment of a mole or spot that’s spreading from the border into surrounding skin - see 'B' is for Borders above.
  • Dark lesions (unusual areas of skin) on the palms, soles of your feet, fingertips, toes, or in your mouth (see 8 places you wouldn't expect to find skin cancer).
  • Spots under fingernails or toenails that are changing in colour – or a dark stripe running through a fingernail or toenail (that’s not caused by trauma to your nail).

If you have any of the above symptoms, it doesn’t mean they are melanoma, but it would pay to have them checked by skin cancer detection experts as soon as possible to make sure.

Colour moles side by side

Image: these moles with unusual colouring were diagnosed as melanoma

Which skin colour is most at risk of skin cancer?

As most of us know, people with fair or very pale skin (particularly those who have a lot of moles and freckles), are most at risk of skin cancer. If you have olive or dark skin, your risk is reduced – but remember that low risk doesn’t mean NO risk. People with darker skin can still get melanoma – in fact, Bob Marley, died from a melanoma on his toenail!

What’s more, darker skinned people often aren’t as vigilant about wearing sunscreen and other sun safety precautions as those with paler, frecklier skins, so their skin can end up with a lot more harmful sun damage over time.

How to check your own skin for melanoma 1000

The ‘ugly duckling’ rule

Another useful method for spoting melanoma is to look for the ‘ugly duckling’. If any mole stands out or looks different from that of nearby moles, it is the ugly duckling, and we advise you to see your GP or a skin cancer detection service such as MoleMap to get an expert opinion as soon as possible.

It can be a bit scary having a suspicious-looking mole checked in case it really does turn out to be melanoma. Melanoma is fast-growing and if left untreated, it can spread very quickly below the surface and through your body.

However, on a more positive note, melanoma that’s detected early can almost always be treated successfully. In most cases, this involves surgical removal of the mole and possibly some skin around it to ensure any melanoma hasn’t spread. To ensure our service is unbiased, we don’t remove moles here at MoleMap, but we can recommend many reputable Dermatologists who can.

If a mole looks suspicious, but doesn’t have any immediately concerning features of skin cancer, we’ll ask you to come back in a few months so we can monitor any changes. Our Full Body MoleMap includes unlimited free spot checks, so we encourage our patients to take advantage of these if you notice any changing moles between appointments.

Keeping reading our newsletter to find out more about the other ABCDE & EFG rules over the coming months, or try our Spot the Difference Challenge.

How do I check my skin and moles myself?

It’s a good idea to check your skin and moles yourself regularly at least every 3 months – a great way to remember is to do it at the start of every season. Here’s how:

  1. Stand in front of a full length mirror in a well lit room.
  2. Start at the top and work your way down your body.
  3. Ask a partner or family member to check your scalp and back.
  4. Use a brush or hairdryer to part your hair into sections so that you can check your scalp.
  5. Move to your face and neck, not forgetting your ears, nostrils and lips.
  6. Be sure to check both the top and underneath of your arms – make sure you check your fingernails, including under the nail bed.
  7. As you move down your body don't forget to check places where the sun doesn't shine! Melanoma can be found in places that don’t have exposed skin.
  8. The best way to monitor changes on your skin is to take photographs every few months and comparing them to identify any changes (which is why most of MoleMap’s services include total body photography. If you see something growing and/or changing, get it checked out straight away.
melanoma what to look for

Image: if you're unsure what sort of skin check is right for you, you can book a free online chat with a MoleMap Melanographer

What if I’m unsure whether I need a skin check?

In many cases, a suspicious-looking mole doesn’t turn out to be melanoma, but the only way to know for sure is to get it professionally checked.

If you’re not sure whether you need an expert check – or what type of skin check to book – you could start by requesting a SpotChat online consultation. Spotchat is MoleMap’s free online skin cancer advisory service, so you can talk to a Melanographer (trained skin cancer nurse) from the comfort of your own home.

You can also upload photos of the mole (or moles) of concern through My MoleMap (our personal patient app). The Melanographer will check the images – and she may ask you to show her a close-up of the mole using your phone camera. Then she’ll advise you on whether it needs further checking in one of our clinics or whether you should keep monitoring it yourself for any further changes.

A SpotChat is easy, free and confidential, so it’s a great way to ensure your mole is professionally checked straight away – and to offer you peace of mind.

No matter what type of check you need, it pays to shop around and ensure you’re getting the most comprehensive service possible. For complete reassurance, look for a head-to-toe skin check by trained experts that includes a skin surveillance program as well as dermatologist diagnosis - such as a Full Body MoleMap. Check out our range of MoleMap services here, or click the link below to make a booking.

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