When Should You Worry About a Mole? 5 Warning Signs

Medically Reviewed on 6/23/2022
When Should You Worry About a Mole
While most moles are harmless, a new or changing mole should be examined for skin cancer

Moles can range in color and size, caused by a cluster of melanocytes (melanin pigment-containing cells) that cause the skin to be darker in that area.

While most moles are harmless, a new or changing mole should be examined for skin cancer. Prognosis for melanoma improves with early detection and treatment, before it has spread to other parts of the body.

Routine skin check-ups are crucial, especially if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer. Here are 5 signs to look for when it comes to moles.

5 signs that a mole is serious

1. Changes in shape, size, and texture

If a mole is rapidly expanding or changing and appears different from other moles, it may be cause for concern. These moles are referred to as “ugly ducklings” by dermatologists. Such changes could be indicative of melanoma.

2. Spitz moles

A Spitz mole is a raised, circular growth on your skin that is pink, red, tan, or brown and smooth or rough in texture. While it is usually not dangerous, it can resemble melanomas. Like a melanoma, it can bleed or break open.

If you have a Spitz mole that is concerning, a dermatologist can evaluate the mole and monitor it to see if it changes. They may advise removing it or choose to wait and see if it goes away on its own.

3. Bleeding or infection

If a mole starts bleeding for no obvious reason, it should be examined. A mole that resembles an open sore is also a cause and should be examined by a dermatologist. 

4. Increase in number

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, having 50 or more moles increases the chance of acquiring skin cancer. However, a study published in JAMA Dermatology found that many people with melanoma usually do not have an elevated mole count.

While everyone, regardless of how many moles they have, should be aware of the risk of melanoma, you may need to be especially vigilant if you have numerous moles.

5. Large in size

Most moles are round (or oval) patches about the size of a pencil eraser. However, some moles can be quite large and cover a significant area of the body.

Children with large moles should consult a dermatologist. More than half of giant mole melanomas are detected before the age of 10 years. The cure rate of melanoma is relatively high if detected and treated early.

How to identify cancerous moles

When it comes to figuring out whether or not a mole is cause for concern, following the ABCDEs can help:

  • Asymmetrical: A benign mole is generally symmetrical. An abnormal mole is asymmetrical.
  • Border: The border of benign moles is usually uniform and circular. Cancerous moles typically have wavy edges. If the border is not smooth, you should have your mole examined.
  • Color: The color of benign moles is usually almost the same throughout. They can be brown, black, or pink. Moles that are malignant or pre-cancerous have different shades. If you find a mole with more than one color, have it examined.
  • Diameter: Moles smaller than a quarter of an inch or the size of a pencil eraser are less likely to be cancerous. A larger mole is not always a sign of cancer, but it should be investigated.
  • Evolving: This means that the mole is changing its shape, size, or color with time. Moles that do this could be cancerous.

Make it a practice to examine your skin regularly for any odd growths. Inspect your skin after a bath or shower in a well-lit room with a full-length mirror. If you notice any changes in your moles, get them examined by a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive types of skin cancer, which means it can spread quickly to other organs. Therefore, early detection and treatment are key.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/23/2022
Image Source: iStock image

McCallum K. When Should I Worry About a Mole? Houston Methodist. https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2022/feb/when-should-i-worry-about-a-mole/

Dahle K. Moles: What to Look For and When to Worry. Intermountain Healthcare. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2017/05/moles-what-to-look-for-and-when-to-worry/