I’ve learned that once people find out I am a dermatology resident, they excitedly pull me aside and show me some spot on their skin that just “looks a little funny.” One of the most common funny spots people want me to check out are moles. It’s definitely not an easy task to figure out which moles are benign (safe and normal) and which ones are potentially malignant (cancerous, dangerous, needs to be removed). If it were easy, we wouldn’t be in business! That doesn’t mean there aren’t some general rules. Here is what I tell my friends and family to differentiate between harmless moles and bad ones. Learn your ABC’s (and D and E’s!).
The only caveat I’ll make here is that these rules apply mostly to adults. Childhood is the time period in which moles grow, so it is not uncommon to see moles changing in kids (E in the ABC’s above). If you notice any of the ABCD’s above (asymmetry, weird border or color, or large diameter), bring the child in to see a dermatologist to be safe.
So what happens if you find a funky mole? In the dermatologist’s office, the doctor may decide to shave the mole off or do a surgical excision of the area. Either way, the specimen will be sent to pathology to be reviewed under the microscope for a definitive diagnosis.
If you have over 50 moles on your body, you may be at higher risk for melanoma, and you should do self mole checks each month and see a dermatologist regularly for routine check ups.