skip to Main Content

Moles to Melanoma: Recognizing the ABCDE Features

Understand the ABCD's of Melanoma

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same. For melanoma specifically, a simple way to remember the warning signs is to remember the ABCDEs of melanoma.


Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but infrequently can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or the intestines. Melanoma is potentially dangerous because it can spread to nearby tissues and other parts of the body, such as the lung, liver, bone, or brain. The earlier that melanoma is detected and removed, the more likely that treatment will be successful.

  • Asymmetry: Often irregular and asymmetrical
  • Border: Usually irregular. Edges often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
  • Color: Usually uneven in color. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. May also have areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue.
  • Diameter: Change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about ¼ inch wide). The surface may appear scaly.
  • Evolving: The mole has changed in size, shape, and/or color over the past few weeks or months. Development of a new mole that has any of the ABCDE features in an area of previously normal skin.
  • Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the “ABCDE” features; however, some may show only one or two of those features.

Common Moles

A common mole is a non-cancerous growth on the skin that is formed by a cluster of melanocytes (cells that make a substance called melanin, which gives color to skin and eyes). A mole may be dark or flesh-colored and may be raised from the skin. Most adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun. Common moles are seldom found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks.

  • Asymmetry: Usually symmetrical, round or oval
  • Border: Usually have a distinct edge that separates it from the rest of the skin
  • Shape: Usually round or oval
  • Color: Usually have an even color; may be pink, tan, brown, black (in deeply pigmented individuals), or a color that is very close to a person’s normal skin tone
  • Diameter: Usually less than 5 millimeters or about ¼ inch (smaller than a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving: Moles go through a life-cycle. Often they start as small freckle-like spots; gradually round up and form a bump; may lighten, become flesh-colored; become less elevated, flatten and eventually disappear. Life-cycle is a gradual process typically over many years. Some moles do not go through the entire life-cycle. Vast majority are stable and then disappear; rarely develop into melanoma (or cancer).

Dysplastic Nevus (DN)

A dysplastic nevus (DN) is a mole that may develop into malignant melanoma, a skin cancer starting in pigment cells. DN look different from common moles. DN are often larger than common moles (more than 5 millimeters) and have borders that are not easy to see. Their color is usually uneven and can range from pink to dark brown. Similar to common moles, parts of the DN may be raised above the skin surface. 

  • Asymmetry: irregular shape
  • Border: indistinct (blurry) borders
  • Color: mixture of colors (tan, brown, and red or pink shades)
  • Diameter: greater than 5 millimeters or ¼ inch and have a flat part
  • Evolving: Majority are stable and then disappear; typically start to show these features when small and show all features by the time they reach the size of most moles; become larger than most moles and eventually disappear

To book an appointment with a SkinMD provider use our online booking tool or call 708-636-3767.

Disclaimer: SkinMD does not provide medical advice to users of its website. Consult with a SkinMD provider if you have concerns about your skin.




Related Articles