Could My Mole Be Cancerous?
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Identifying Healthy vs. Cancerous Moles

Headshot of Dr. Tim Cox, medical oncologist, Bronson Oncology & Hematology Specialists

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. In fact, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by age 70.

The most common cause of skin cancer is ultraviolent (UV) rays from the sun. As the weather warms up here in Michigan, many of us are more conscious of protecting our skin from harmful UV rays. However, it is important to practice good skin care and protection all year long.

Signs of skin cancer

Though most moles on the body are harmless, they are often one of the first visible signs of skin cancer. It’s important to know how to identify when something on your skin isn’t right. There are also steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Moles appear on the body when clusters of cells gather in one area, instead of spreading apart. They are often small and appear darker than the rest of the skin. Most moles are no cause for concern. In fact, most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Although they can grow at any point in life, most moles appear at birth and in young kids, as well as young adults. Pre-existing moles can also darken or become more noticeable from sun exposure.

Spot the difference between healthy and cancerous moles

Most moles are benign. This means they are harmless and do not cause cancer. However, sometimes they grow and become malignant. This means they are cancerous and must be removed. It is important to keep an eye on all moles. Detecting malignant moles in early stages of growth can help catch skin cancers, like:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Image of what healthy moles look like

When monitoring your moles, look for color, shape and size. These are some of the most common triggers for spotting an abnormal mole. I like to use the simple ABCDE for judging whether a mole is normal or potentially dangerous.

  • Asymmetry
    A healthy mole is symmetrical. This means the left and right side look alike.
  • Borders
    A healthy mole has even borders. This means that the edges are clean and form a circle or oval shape.
  • Color
    Healthy moles are all the same color – usually a shade of brown. If a mole is unhealthy, it might be black or many different colors.
  • Diameter
    Healthy moles are usually smaller than 6 mm across. This is about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving
    Healthy moles do not change in size, shape or color. If you notice a mole is getting bigger, changing shapes or getting darker than normal, this could be a sign of a malignant mole.

If you notice a mole that doesn’t seem normal, it’s important to get it looked at right away by your primary care provider or a dermatologist. Don’t wait for more advanced symptoms – like pain, itching, swelling or oozing – to appear before seeing a doctor. If you don’t have a primary care provider, visit

Keeping your skin healthy

There are so many reasons to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. However, it is important to block harmful UV rays. This is the number one way to prevent skin cancer. I suggest starting every day with a face lotion that includes SPF. You should be doing this every day - no matter the time of year or what the weather is like. Additionally, make sure to apply a good, high SPF sunscreen regularly when you are in the sun! Some tips for selecting and applying sunscreen are:

  • Broad spectrum and 30+ SPF: When choosing a sunscreen, select one that is “broad spectrum.” This means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Additionally, make sure your sunscreen is at least 30 SPF for proper strength.
  • Water resistant: Sunscreen is not waterproof! Choose one that is water resistant to help keep you as safe as possible when sweating or swimming.
  • Apply early and often: Put on your first coat of sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before you go in the sun. This allows it to absorb into your skin. Reapply every two hours, more often if you are working up a sweat or in the water.
  • Apply a thick coat: Applying only a thin layer of a sunscreen can reduce the effectiveness by as much as 50 percent.

Some other tips for staying safe in the sun include:

  • Avoid peak sun exposure. The sun’s UV rays are typically strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Try to avoid prolonged time in the sun during these hours. If you own a smart watch, it may show the UV index. This can also help you recognize times when you should avoid the sun based on your location.
  • Wear a hat or other protective gear. Hats, sunglasses, and lightweight, long clothing can help protect your skin when you’re in the sun.
  • Find shade. If you’re on the beach, use an umbrella or canopy when you can.

Treating cancerous moles and skin cancer

If caught early enough, a simple procedure to remove malignant moles may be the only treatment you need. If a mole has become cancerous and has grown and/or spread beyond the skin, you may need more advanced care – like chemotherapy or radiation.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need treatment for cancer, trust the experts at Bronson. Bronson Cancer Center has locations in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. The multidisciplinary team offers care and support every step of the way, so you can get you back to enjoying the things you love most. Learn more at

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