If you're like most people, you have between 10 and 40 moles. Moles can be skin-colored or different shades of pink and brown, they can be raised or flat, and can change over time. Some changes are natural, but some can be indications of melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer. By tracking how they evolve, you can spot and alert your doctor to a potential problem. Here's a simple way to get to know your moles:

  1. Visit the American Academy of Dermatology's website to download and print your Body Mole Map.  Print or make multiple copies so you have a new one for your next self-exam.
  2. Position yourself in front of a large, well-lit mirror. Keep a hand mirror close by to check hard-to-see areas.
  3. Start at the top of your head and work downwards, making sure not to skip hidden areas like your scalp, the soles of your feet, and your back and legs. Ask a friend to examine places you can't see with your mirror.
  4. Number each notable mole on your print-out's head/body/feet outlines. The AAD says you can follow a simple "ABCDE" rule to note irregularities:
    1. Asymmetry - One side of the mole looks different than the other
    2. Border Is Uneven- It's not round or oval in shape
    3. Color Variance - It's not uniform in color
    4. Diameter Is Large - The diameter of the mole is larger than 4mm (there's a scaled ruler on the mole map).
    5. Evolving - Something looks different from the last time you examined it.
  5. Write the corresponding number any moles you've numbered in the bottom grid. Check off and describe which of the "ABCDE" factors you've spotted.
  6. Refer back to your sheet when you do your next self-exam.

If you discover any of these warning signs, speak to your doctor, particularly about any "ugly-looking" moles. Check these problem moles regularly, especially if you have a risk factor like a family history of melanoma, more than 50 moles, you're fair-skinned, have blonde or red hair, or have light-colored eyes. And of course, if you're particularly at risk if you've had a previous melanoma or another kind of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma can be deadly, but it's highly curable when detected early.


National Cancer Institute - Division of National Institute of Health


American Academy of Dermatology site and mole map