Moles are usually harmless skin spots. Moles can be different colors, from light brown to black. People usually develop many of them over their lifetime. Moles increase in number during the first 3 decades of life. Moles can be anywhere on the body. They may be flat or raised and sometimes they contain hair. Although moles can change over time, they only rarely turn into skin cancer. The moles that do not turn into cancer (benign) are usually:

  • Small (the size of a pencil eraser or less).

  • One color.

  • Smooth.

  • Have a uniform border.

  • Round and oval and do not change much in appearance over time.

Malignant melanoma is a skin cancer that starts like a mole. Moles that were present at birth are more likely to turn into a melanoma later in life especially if they were very large (larger than 7 inches [20 cm] in diameter) at birth. Melanomas are different from moles. Melanomas:

  • Have Borders that are more ragged.

  • Have more than one color (red, white or blue) in addition to brown or black.

  • Are usually bigger.

Years of sun exposure increases the risk for getting melanoma. It is important to look at your moles regularly so that you can notice any changes that may occur within anyone of them that make it different from your other moles on your body. Know the A, B, C, D's of your moles – a mole is more worrisome for a melanoma if:

A: It is Asymmetrical (one half is different from the other half).

B: The Borders are jagged, etched or irregular.

C: The Color is uneven (shades of brown, tan and/or black).

D: The Diameter is greater than a quarter of an inch (6 mm).


  • Your mole bleeds or becomes an open sore or does not heal.

  • Your mole grows rapidly or changes color.

  • Your mole becomes irregular and bumpy.

  • Your mole becomes painful, itchy, tender or sensitive.