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Moles are growths derived from pigment cells in the skin. They may be benign or malignant. Learning how to distinguish safe moles from dangerous ones can save your life.

How to detect a melanoma

The ABCD of moles


See your dermatologist if any of the following changes are noticed in a mole


A    Asymmetry


B    Border irregularity


C    Colour change


D    Diameter > 6mm

E    Evolution (any change in the mole)

How to detect a melanoma

Benign mole:

What to do between your visits


Don't rely solely on your annual visits. Remain vigilant throughout the year and make the 1st of each month your mole inspection day. Here's how to examine your moles:


A melanoma is a dangerous skin cancer.  With early detection, it can be removed completely.  However, if detected late, the tumour could spread to other parts of the body.

For pictures and more information, see Melanomanet in the website of the American Academy of Dermatology.

What happens if your dermatologist suspects a melanoma?


If a melanoma is suspected, the tumour is cut out with a narrow margin.  The tissue is sent to the laboratory for analysis.  If the lab analysis confirms a melanoma, then, depending on its depth, a second incision is made with a wider margin.  This two-step removal prevents unnecessary removal of tissue in case the suspected tumour turns out not to be a melanoma.

Mimickers of melanoma


Seborrhoeic keratosis


A Seborrhoeic keratosis may be pigmented and may superficially resemble a melanoma.  However, its dull, lustreless, warty surface, its stuck on appearance and its yellowish crusting differentiate it from a melanoma.  It can be easily removed by means of liquid nitrogen or electrocautery.


Pigmented basal cell carcinoma


A basal cell carcinoma is usually devoid of pigment. However, it may contain pigment in which case it may mimic a melanoma.




Sometimes a mole looks a little suspicious but not enough to remove it.  In these circumstances, your dermatologist may photograph the mole using a skin surface microscope.  The image can then be compared a few months down the line.  This type of examination is commonly referred to as mole mapping. Any change would necessitate removal of that mole.


To read about other non-cancerous growths, click here.

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