Know your ABCDE: be mole aware this summer

How to mole check

Golden, glowing skin is an aspiration for many in the summer months, but it is important not to pursue this at the expense of our health. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, with almost 15,000 new melanoma cases diagnosed every year.

Before heading out into the sun this summer stop and think: how mole aware are you? Moles are a cluster of skin cells known as melanocytes that give pigment to our skin.  The medical term for a mole is a ‘naevus’ from the Latin word for birthmark although, in fact, the majority of moles are not present at birth.

It’s normal to have between 10- 40 moles on the face and body and the majority are completely harmless.  If you notice a new mole or a change within one or your existing moles it is important to have it checked to make sure it is not an abnormal mole or melanoma.

5 steps to checking your moles

 What should you look out for when you check your skin?

The ABCDE acronym has been developed as a handy guide to self-checking your moles:

  • Asymmetry: a ‘healthy’ mole is more likely to be symmetrical whereas asymmetry is a warning sign that a lesion is abnormal.
  • Borders: a benign mole usually has a smooth, regular border, so notched or ragged borders can be a cause for concern.
  • Colour: a single colour, paler colours and regular arrangement of the colour are all reassuring signs that a mole is likely to be normal. Moles with several different colours, or darker colours arranged in an irregular pattern are more worrying and should be checked out.
  • Diameter: a melanoma is often larger in size than the normal moles so look for any unusually large moles and check these especially carefully.
  • Evolving: arrange an appointment with a dermatologist if you notice any changes to size, prominence or colour of an existing mole or the appearance of a new mole or lesion. Taking pictures of your moles as a point of reference can help. If a mole starts to bleed, itch or crust, then it should be checked out immediately.

There is widespread agreement that the ABCD of checking moles are Asymmetry, Border, Colour and Diameter but several different options for what E should be.  I teach medical students to look ‘Elsewhere’ i.e. at the surrounding skin for clues like inflammation.

The NHS website tool suggests ‘Elevation’ or ‘Enlargement’.  I think the British Association of Dermatologists probably has the most sensible suggestion; E is for ‘Expert’ – if you are worried about a mole contact a Consultant Dermatologist and arrange an appointment.