How Do I Recognize a Malignant Mole?

A malignant mole may display color irregularity.
A benign mole.
Woman with a mole above her upper lip.
Moles may be malignant if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, appear to spread their color into surrounding skin or change in appearance.
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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2014
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There are a number of signs you can look for to tell a benign mole from a malignant mole, which is often how the skin cancer melanoma starts. A relatively large mole may be indicative of a problem, as can one that has irregularities in color. Look for moles that are asymmetrical in shape, and that have irregular borders or where the color from the mole appears to spread into the surrounding skin. Another sign to look for is if the mole's characteristics change over time. Malignant moles may also display symptoms a normal mole will not, like itching, scaling, or bleeding.

It is fairly common for a malignant mole to be larger than any other moles you might have. While it is possible for a benign mole to be quite large, it is probably best to have a doctor check any that you have. A good basic standard is to question any mole that is larger than 6 millimeters across.

Another common quality of malignant moles is color irregularity. This means you will see several different shades of color, often ranging from red to brown to black, within the mole. In contrast, benign moles are typically just one color throughout.

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If you have a malignant mole it may be asymmetrical. This means that the shape of one side of the mole will be different from the shape of the other, and if you were to draw a line down the middle of it these differences would be very obvious. In addition to this, the borders of the mole might appear irregular. They may be notched or scalloped rather than smooth, and can even have areas of pigment outside of the main body of the mole. Instead of being distinct from the surrounding skin, the edges of the mole may not be clearly delineated and the pigment may appear to blur or seep into it.

A malignant mole tends to change fairly rapidly, so watch for lesions with shifting characteristics. This can mean it grows bigger or changes shape or color. If you have a mole that you see changing in appearance, or that develops symptoms like oozing or bleeding, have it examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

The final way to spot a malignant mole is to look for abnormal symptoms. Benign moles do not typically become scaly or crusty. They do not usually seep or bleed, nor do they cause pain or itching. Any of these symptoms should be a sign to get your mole examined.

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anon944113
Post 11

I'm 43 and a female. I have had a flat "age spot" on my chest for several years. Nothing ever changed about it until about three weeks ago. It's risen, turned a brown-deep-berry color when before it had always been very dark brown and flat. The top now is raised and smooth most of the time, and this has happened in just the past two weeks. It seems to have more "character" as the recent, few weeks have gone by.

I'm making a doctor's appointment this week to see what comes to light. Keeping my fingers crossed, for sure!

anon345019
Post 10

I pull them away from the skin and tie thread super tight in a knot around the base. It cuts it off from its needed sources to live, so it dries up, dies and falls off. I have done it for years. I am 50 and do not have cancer. I learned this from an elderly person when I was young.

If you can get all of it and tie it off, it dies and dries up like a little black scab and falls off after it finishes healing. There is no scar and no mole. I had one on my face and did it years ago. It's gone. Flat ones are different. You cannot use this method. You must have them burned, frozen, cut off or whatever method at a doctor's office.

anon337418
Post 9

I had a mole removed. It was the same more or less for as long as I remember. I am 31 and I think I always had it, since I was 10 or 12 years old for sure. But none of my doctors ever liked it, and they always said to check it. It was big, yes and always irregular in shape, light brown and asymmetrical, and then the rest of elevated mole was weird. I realized it was getting maybe blacker on one side and, I thought during the last months, maybe growing.

I went to the doctor, who said it was borderline, and the day after, he removed it, cutting me very deep. I am freaking out because I am now waiting for a biopsy, in case it was malignant. Pray for me!

stolaf23
Post 8

I was always just told that moles are potentially dangers if they change shape, size, or color.

At the same time, I think people overlook other skin coloration. While some people naturally have freckles, many fair-skinned people, and others, freckle when they are in the sun too long, and it can be a sign of damage, just like a tan.

The same can be said for "age" spots, or rather sun spots, which have less to do with aging than they do with being outside too much for many years.

While these aren't signs of cancer, the way moles are, it can still show that you're at risk because of sun exposure.

kylee07drg
Post 7

@StarJo - Red moles are really no more dangerous than other kinds. Just like with brown moles, you have to watch for signs of change or weird shapes, but I don’t know that they are any more of a problem than other moles.

My mother had red moles on her arms and neck, and she never had them removed. She has had them since she was thirty, and she is now sixty-five, so obviously, they weren’t cancerous.

If you don’t want to go to a doctor specifically for that, maybe you should just mention it to him at your next checkup. That way, you wouldn’t be out any extra money, and you could set your mind at ease.

StarJo
Post 6

Are red moles more dangerous than brown ones? I have always heard that you should watch them carefully, because they are more closely linked with melanomas than other colors.

I have a couple of red moles on my abdomen, but they look so safe. They are barely more raised off my skin than a freckle, and they are round. I just can’t imagine them causing me any trouble.

However, I would have them removed in a heartbeat if I thought they might be cancerous. I just hate to go to a doctor for something only slightly bigger than a freckle.

Oceana
Post 5

@Perdido - I would be too afraid to let a growing mole remain on my body. Several older people in my family have developed skin cancer, and since I have very fair skin, I am even more prone to this.

I have had a couple of moles removed that turned out to be benign, but I could not rest for worrying about them. The peace of mind removing them gave me was worth the cost of having them surgically removed.

I must admit it can get annoying to have surgery on every mole that develops, though. I grow a few new ones each year, and my doctor knows what’s up when he sees me coming. However, since I am at a high risk of getting skin cancer, I will continue to have them cut off as long as I live.

Perdido
Post 4

This may not be a good thing, but as long as my moles are not irregular in appearance, I don’t do anything about them. As a teenager, I had a mole on my face that looked perfectly normal to me, but because it had sprung up quickly and was growing, my mother made me have it removed.

It turned out to be benign, and I took that as a sign that growing moles don’t mean malignant moles. So, I haven’t worried about any that I have developed over the years, because they all have been uniform in color and have had clearly defined borders.

manykitties2
Post 3

My mother had a mole that started to take on an odd shape and for her it was a sign of skin cancer. We were all shocked because she had always been careful not to spend too much time in the sun and always wore protection outside.

I guess that some people are just more likely to get cancer than others. Unfortunately it does run in our family. Luckily my mom was able to get treatment and is now cancer free, but it was certainly a scare for the family. We're hoping that in the future she stays healthy and our genes don't cause any more problems.

wander
Post 2

@drtroubles - I think if there is any change in your moles, whether it be size, shape, color or texture that you should go to your doctor and have it checked out. While skin cancer isn't the easiest thing to catch early I think that you have a reason to be concerned. We all know our own bodies best and if something like this mole is suddenly bothering you it is best to get it checked out.

My friend had a mole removed that had started to grow, and while it wasn't malignant, he certainly felt better having it gone. I think in this case it really is a matter of better safe than sorry.

drtroubles
Post 1

I have a mole on my arm that seems to be getting bigger, though it could just be my imagination. I have had the spot for years but recently I feel like it is slowly growing.

My wife seems to think it looks the same but I would hate to let something go that could actually be an issue. I know I tend to get a bit over excited about things like this, but I would hate to have something like skin cancer and not catch it early. As far as I can tell it hasn't changed color at all and it doesn't hurt. So size right now is the only issue I have.

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