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When moles are worrisome

Skin cancer is one of the most pervasive types of cancer, and just about everyone is at risk of getting it. The American Cancer Society says that, over the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

Melanoma, while not the most common form of skin cancer, is the deadliest form of the disease. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, if melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable. One way to detect melanoma early is to be aware of moles and new growths on the skin.

Brown spots, growths and moles on the body are often harmless, but they may be indicative of skin cancer. Experts say that anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma than others. Knowing one's skin and being aware of any changes is key to detecting skin cancer much more promptly.

Understanding the ABCDE's of detecting melanoma and the"Ugly Duckling" sign are important strategies for detecting skin cancer. Here's what a person should know.

Ugly Duckling sign

This concept was introduced in 1998 and relates to the observation that nevi, or moles, on the body tend to look like one another and much like all the ducklings in a flock will resemble one another. However, a mole that is unlike the other, or an "ugly duckling," may indicate the presence of melanoma. Nevi may present in different patterns, which are deemed "normal" to a particular person. An outlier, or a mole that doesn't fit the pattern, could raise a red flag. The outlier may be darker than surrounding moles or it may be smaller.


The Ugly Duckling sign is often used with another diagnostic tool called ABCDE. This is an acronym for the detection steps: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving.

  • Asymmetry: If an imaginary line is drawn through the middle of the mole and the two halves of the mole do not match up, this could be a warning sign. Normal spots tend to be symmetrical.
  • Border: The borders of early melanoma tend to be jagged or notched, while regular moles have even borders.
  • Color: A mole with multiple colors might be melanoma.
  • Diameter: Melanomas tend to be larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser. Large spots should be investigated.
  • Evolving: If a mole starts to change all of a sudden by growing or changing color, or even if it simply feels different, see a doctor

"When in doubt, check it out" can be applied to detecting skin cancer. It is better to be safe than sorry, especially when considering that early detection can save lives in the event of melanoma.

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