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How to Detect Skin Cancer: Can You Do an ABC Mole Check?

By Edited Jun 13, 2016 6 5

With increasing levels of skin cancer around today it is important that you should be able to carry out a simple ABC skin check on any moles. This way you should know if further investigation is needed and/or an appointment with a doctor or dermatologist should be arranged.

Do You Know What Cancer Actually is?

We have all heard the word numerous times but do you actually know what cancer is? The term Cancer is a term used for a process where abnormal cells are created within the body and start dividing at a very quick rate. After the cells have divided they can then spread and invade other organs within the body. This attack on the organs can eventually causing them to stop working as productively or shut down all together.

The proper medical term for the process where the cancerous cells break off and spread throughout the body is called Metastasis.

Skin cancer is a particularly dangerous type of the disease because the metastasis occurs fairly early in the onset of the cancerous cells, therefore it’s important to catch it early or better yet prevent it all together. Skin cancer usually starts off as a mole on the skin.

What Are Moles?

Moles are small, dark, abnormal growths that appear on the skin. These growths may be brown or black in colour and can appear on the skin in a group or cluster or can be solitary. It is both healthy and normal for moles to change gradually over time as our skin ages and some moles that you had as a child may disappear or fade over time. 

What Causes Moles?

Basically moles are caused because cells on the skin cluster together rather than being spread out. It is perfectly natural to have moles on the skin but cancerous ones can be precipitated by prolonged exposure to harmful sunshine and UV rays.

The ABC's of the ABCDE Check

The annocronym ABCDE should remind you of how to check the moles on your body to see if they are normal or if you should seek further medical advice. It is important here to remember that just because one of the moles on your body has a similar feature to the ones described below DOES NOT mean you have skin cancer and shouldn't panic, it simply means that one should consult an expert.

A- Asymmetry:

The ‘A’ in our little pneumonic stand for asymmetry. Normal, healthy skin moles are completely symmetrical which means that if you drew a line down the middle of it, both halves would be a perfect mirror image of each other. In the case of a cancerous mole then one side will be different from the other.

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B- Border:

The border around the mole should be smooth and circular or oval in shape. There shouldn’t be any jagged edges or an irregular shape.

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C- Color:

A normal healthy mole should only be one colour. Any mole that has a two tone effect or one that has a definite darker patch than anywhere else should be looked at more closely.

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D- Diameter:

Another point to look out for is the actual size of the mole. It is widely regarded that if the mole is larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch or 6mm), it needs to be examined by a doctor or specialist. Included in this are moles that have no other symptoms previously described in this list. For example a symmetric, perfectly circular, one colour mole that is bigger than 6mm SHOULD STILL get evaluated for abnormalities by a doctor. 




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E- Elevation:

Elevation means the mole is raised above the skin and has an uneven surface.

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So remember that this is a simple check to carry out to check for potential skin cancers. This is not a definitive list and by all means they could be other symptoms, as well that if you do have one of these symptoms it does not mean that you definitely have cancer. If in doubt then go and see your doctor.


As always prevention is better than a cure so it is always better to protect you and your family when out in the sun. They are a few tips to keep you safe:

I couldn't have put it better than the Australians SLIP, SLOP, SLAP campaign that is now widespread throughout the country.

The premise of the idea is to keep the skin protected at all times for harmful U.V rays and this can best be done by slipping on a shirt, covering yourself in a high factor sunscreen and putting a hat on. So remember when out:

Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat


Jul 17, 2012 5:23am
Very interesting! Because of this article I made an appointment with my doctor to have a full-body scan. I have a weird mole on my arm and I'm a bit concerned. My mother has had four cancerous moles removed. I guess this is the result of all those years of laying out in the backyard, using Crisco shortening as a "tanning lotion" to get really dark!
Jul 24, 2012 5:31am
Really good article. It is not only moles that need to be checked for cancer. Any sore or cut that does not heal or is taking too long to heal. My 48 year old brother waited too long to have a small cut looked at with fatal consequences.. So, any mole or cut or anything different on your skin should get checked out.
Jul 24, 2012 6:51am
Good article. Thanks for helping raise awareness. My wife just had skin cancer removed. Her spot was raised and not uniform. Also, the spot had a tingling sensation. Not all cancers can be felt, but if you have a spot that hurts or tingles, you definitely want to have it looked at. Thanks again.
Jul 24, 2012 7:19am
This is really helpful and so important to know. Thanks for a great article.
Jul 24, 2012 8:34pm
Such a deserving front page article! My father died from melanoma at age 57, seven weeks after I gave birth to my oldest daughter. I am a sunscreen tyrant in my house and my kids know not to go out without slathering it on. In my opinion, a "healthy tan" is an oxymoron.
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