Fact Checked

How can I Tell the Difference Between a Mole and Skin Cancer?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The difference between a mole and skin cancer generally comes down to size, shape, color, and elevation. Though skin cancer can often only be truly diagnosed through laboratory tests on suspect moles, it's important to report any suspect moles to a healthcare professional so that you can get treatment as soon as possible if it is cancerous. There are also many things you can do to lower your risk of developing skin cancer, including using sunscreen and avoiding tanning.

Appearance of Moles

A fairly symmetrical skin mole.
A fairly symmetrical skin mole.

Moles tend to be symmetrical, and are usually either circular or oval in shape. Their edges are usually rounded and well-defined, and not irregular. Most are all one color, and they tend to stay that color throughout a person's life. Though some are large, most non-cancerous moles tend to be about the size of a pencil eraser, about 0.25 in (6.35 mm) in diameter. Though moles do sometimes naturally increase in size, particularly those on children, they usually grow slowly, and don't suddenly start to change size or shape.

Appearance of Cancers

An asymmetrical mole with blurred edges.
An asymmetrical mole with blurred edges.

Skin cancers in general often have ABCDE characteristics: they tend to be Asymmetrical, have irregular Borders, change Color, have a large Diameter, and are Elevated above the skin. Besides this, each of the three main types of skin cancermelanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — has a specific look. Growths caused by melanoma are typically fast growing or large, have many different colors, and may get red or bleed. Basal cell skin cancer often appears as a pearl-colored bump or red patch, or a patch of thickened or scar-like skin. Squamous cell cancer begins as a small bump that grows slowly, the center of which usually develops an ulcer or sore that does not heal.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Woman with a mole above her upper lip.
Woman with a mole above her upper lip.

The most important rule in assessing the difference between a mole and skin cancer is to check with a medical professional whenever you have doubts. If you have large moles, you may want to take pictures of these, or measurements, to be certain they do not change in size or appearance over time. Seek medical attention right away if you note significant changes in a mole.

Preventing Skin Cancer

Tanning beds can raise the risk of skin cancer.
Tanning beds can raise the risk of skin cancer.

You can often significantly lower your risk of skin cancer by avoiding exposure to Ultra Violet (UV) rays. It's best to avoid sun exposure during the middle of the day, and to wear sunscreen when outside, as skin damage resulting from repeated sun exposure is the biggest causal factor in any of the skin cancers. Since tanning beds and sun lamps use UV rays, they can also significantly increase your chances of skin cancer.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


If you have concern enough to post a message, please see a dermatologist!


I have a couple of black moles on my back. One of them is sore to touch, and has grown about 1mm bigger. Should I see my GP?


After reading these posts, I find that many of them are personal stories that end with phrases like "should I be concerned?" "should I see a doctor?" "Does this mean anything?" "should I have it looked at?" "what should I do?" Use some common sense, people. Nobody can diagnose you over the internet and if you're concerned enough to type it up and ask if you should be concerned, it's probably time to make an appointment.


You may to check your moles with a smartphone app (Android) called SpotMole. It might be of help. However, the ultimate conclusions should always be that of a specialized dermatologist.


I am African American and lately I found a mole on the bottom of my toe, and on my other foot I have a mole on the bottom and its oval shaped and it looks like it's almost under the skin. Its been there for a long time and I don't know if I should go to the doctor or not. Help, please!


I was feeling my neck and felt a bump so I assumed it was a zit, but when I looked in the mirror it turns out to be a mole the size of a dime and I've never seen nor felt it before. Should I be concerned?


I noticed that I got a mole on my nose that was no there at all. I got sunburned like a week ago and my nose was peeling because of the sunburn. It doesn't hurt nor itch. Should I be concerned?


i have a black mole inside of my nose in the corner where everyone can see. i always get comments like to go clean my nose. can it be removed since it's inside my nose?


About a year ago, three moles appeared. Two on the palm of my hand and one on my chest. They are all asymmetrical. However, they have never changed and the color looks about all the same on all three. Could it be melanoma? Should I check with a doctor?


i am 13 and have an oval looking shape on my private area and it's brown but has a red outlining and is shiny, kind of. it doesn't itch, burn, or bother me in any way, but i just really want to know if its cancerous or not, because i really don't want to go to the doctors and ask them to take a look there. so can you please help me?


I am 18 and have naturally darker skin with lot of moles that I have randomly developed over the years. I have always been careful to check the noticeable ones for any type of change.

I just recently was out in the sun for a long time and got burned (very rare for me) and I noticed changes in a small mole on my arm that I have had for as long as I can remember.

Once my burn faded, my mole became raised up and within 48 hours of that it changed shape, almost doubled in size, became bumpy and feels like a raised scab to me now. It seems to be spreading almost and I'm worried it may be cancerous. Anyone have any insight?


I have a mole on the inside of my leg near my groin. Lately it's become sore, and seems to have become bigger. I've always had this mole but I never thought it was a raised as it is now.

I don't know whether it's sore due to my leg rubbing together in the hot weather or if there's a chance of it being cancerous. Should I be concerned?

I'm 17 and have previously had a mole removed from my back due the risk of it becoming cancerous later in life.


i have a mole on my leg which i didn't have a few years ago. It's quite big and dark, with a very small lighter area in it, but then it has this small bit which is very dark. it's literally grown within three years. I'm 13 and I'm really worried. It doesn't look like my other moles either. Please tell me what I should do and whether I should be worried?


I had a small mole on the back of my calf that was totally flat. over the years it has gotten larger in size and has risen above my skin like a soft pimple. should i be concerned?


I got a mole about a year ago. It is like a bump that is very hard. It is brown but the edges are fading to a lighter brown, sometimes there is pain where it is. Should I see someone?


i have a mole inside the hairs of my private area. it just shot out white looking water. should i be concerned?


I had Mohs procedure done to my nose three years this June. I recently noticed another pearly like spot on the opposite side of my nose that I am concerned about.

I was to see the skin specialist a year ago about a spot on my leg, that she told me was an age spot. A visit to the vein clinic recently has me alarmed about the spot on my leg, because she feels it should be checked again.

I have not been able to get an appointment as of yet, because answering machines have taken over speaking to a real person. Leaving a message and not getting any response is very frustrating for me and my family doctor has also tried to reach this specialist. Skin specialists, like any doctor, are hard to find and I am at lost as were to go. Can someone please help me.


to anon157408: i think that more fiber would help. Also, I've heard of bleach for that area--if you're into that kind of thing!


I have a mole that I believe has been with me since birth. It is located near the base of my spine, between my buttocks, and approximately two inches behind my scrotum. About once a day the mole excretes a dark and very smelly material. Sometimes the material is very large and stiff, while other times it's runny like water. It always has an awful odor.

I usually have to clean this mole up after it excretes stuff, and then it's typically okay for the next day or so. Sometimes, it will be two or three or even up to seven days before it releases the dark smelly material. Should I be concerned?


do you have any more ways beside going to see a doctor to know whether your mole is cancer or not?


Probably an infectious STD, Anon147015.


i am 41 years old and i have approx 70 - 80 moles on my body. I have noticed in the last couple of months that i have moles in my private area. i have a mole on the edge of one of my vaginal lips and one on the other side beside the labia area. these are new and are raised to the point that you can pull them. Sometimes they are sore.

I also have around 40 new skin tags that turn to moles on my neck going all round and they often get caught in my hair. Any suggestions about the private area moles? I am a bit worried.

i had my moles looked at 15 years ago by the doctor he said that they are fine. Now I am 41 and getting lots of new moles. i am at a loss as to what to do.


Cancer runs in my family and both sides, though not a specific kind.

I was watching The Doctors, and there was a girl on there who had two moles, one of which was cancerous.

I have over 80 moles on my body, and it scares me that a lot of them could be cancerous since they are not symmetrical, nor are they definite. They're blurred as the passage states. I've had the majority of them all my life, but recently more have been popping up.

I don't go outside, as I'm home schooled and I spend most of my time in front of the computer.

Two years ago, i was tanning for about six months, every day. I'm not sure if that short period of time could do anything, but I'm still sort of scared anyway. Not to mention the majority of them are almost black.

do you think they could be cancerous?


I have had a mole on top of my head (in the back) since i was a little girl or since i was born, not sure about that. Its color is light brown. I have many other birthmarks on my body, but I'm worried about the one I have on my head. As I grew up, it became bigger. I want to know if it is dangerous or cancerous? Please let me know if you know anything about my case. thanks


I am 16 years old i was born with this mole or bump on my leg that grew as i got older. It's two shades darker than my skin and has specks of red and black and when i would get on my knees in water it would bleed.

Now i feel pounding a bit and it is the size of a quarter or a little bigger and is a perfect circle. Can anyone help?


each of you needs to have your mole or spot looked at by a dermatologist. going to the regular doctor is fine, but it's like going to a football game being played by baseball players. it's a skin condition, so go to a skin doctor.

The skin is the largest organ in the body, and needs to be cared for just like your heart, lungs and liver, so don't delay, make an appointment today. p.s. The dermatologist is cheaper than your regular doctor too!


If you have something that you are suspicious of on your skin, see a dermatologist, not your GP. I recently had a pimple on my arm that wouldn't go away and then it got bigger like a boil. After three weeks I went to my GP to have it lanced, and they referred me to a Dermatologist who removed it and had the biopsy tested. It was Squamous Cell Carcinoma! Now I have to go back and have MOHs surgery to get any remaining cells.

Being scared to go is just stupid! The longer you wait the better foothold it gets.


Please, whatever you do just get someone to have a look at it. Go to your doctor and make sure you tell them everything: if it's bad, if it's sore, etc. The doctor is the one person you should be able to tell anything to. Don't be ashamed or shy -- just do it!

After my wife nagging me to see the doctor for ages about a mole that's always been on my back, I went to the doctor about two weeks ago. He said it look like the mole had some blood cells trapped in it so he transferred me to the dermatology center.

I went there today at 9:45 and was told by 10:15 that the mole was likely to be BCC - this is the most common type of skin cancer. I am still really worried about the whole thing and will become a self proclaimed expert on this soon, I'm sure.

I am booked in to have the mole removed on August 31 and to be honest, I just want to get the thing removed and get on with my life. I hate the idea of having this thing on me (which is stupid as it's been here all my life) but now it has started to bleed and is a bit painful so I want to get rid of it ASAP.

Also, it being there reminds me what it is. I don't know why I'm writing this message but it seemed the right thing to do. Good luck to everyone. We will all be fine. I'm sure of that. Love and peace.


i have a large mole between my legs. it hurts and over the past week has grown up off my skin. it gives me pain when i sit and now it is getting hard. i am worried because i do not know what it is. can you help me?


I'm 19 and i had a little bump just above my butt and it didn't concern me but one day when i woke up i had blood on my pajamas and now the wound is very soft and it's not healing. It's been over two weeks but I'm afraid to go to the doctor. I'm really concerned now. Can anyone help, please?


I was 20 years old when I went to the doctor about a mole on my foot. After removing it they told me they were 99.9 percent sure it was not cancerous and lo and behold I was told I had a malignant melanoma.

Luckily, a few weeks after my operation, I found out it had been a success and the cancer hadn't spread. I have since had about 15 moles removed, including under my toenail and only two more have been on the 'borderline' of turning cancerous.

Despite never using a sun bed and always being careful in the sun, I still got skin cancer, so my advice to anybody who is worrying about a mole please go and see your doctor!


I am a twelve year old girl, sixth grade going into seventh in the fall. It would be greatly appreciated if someone could reply. I am somewhat tan, I never burn - even though I spend a lot of time in the sun. Actually I got burned on my shoulder once for falling asleep under the hot Florida sun when I was younger.

I didn't even burn much when I went to this fabulous resort in Turkey right in front of the beach.

I have numerous moles around my body, but a particular one I have noticed, is somewhat concerning. On my upper thigh, there is a mole I'm sure I have had for a while now, that is round and pretty even but the middle of it has turned from dark brown to a dusty white! It has white spreading around it now. I'm a little concerned, especially the fact I'm barely thirteen!

I'm sure that skin cancer, well it doesn't run in the family. If you think this is abnormal, a little odd for a mole please contact me. Thank you very much for your time. I hope I get some feedback. Have a great day!


I have a mole and it has a dark spot in the middle. is it dangerous?


a mole has appeared on the end of my nose. i noticed it when i first got back from my holiday to spain. although i did not sun bathe at all i did get a bit sunburned on my nose as well. could this be skin cancer.


I have loads of moles, all different shaped and sizes. There are five on my face and two of them are worrying me.

They used to be flat but now they are raised and i can always feel them, like they're tingling and they itch but they have not bled.

i went to my doctor and he said no, it can't be cancer as you have bigger ones. please give me some advice. thank you. sarah


i have numerous moles all over my body and some of them are turning to a darker brown and some are turning black. i just want to know if this means i have skin cancer. as i am scared of going to the doctor because i feel as though i am a hypochondriac. please come forward with information asap. Please let me know your answers, as this is the first time i have used this web site and probably will not use it again. hope to hear from people soon love you all, love steven


I have a rather large, raised, dark mole on the cheek of my backside. It just showed up a few years ago (there was no gradual growth), and is very difficult for me to get a good look at.

It was examined by a physician, who indicated that it was okay and I should maybe monitor it. Since then, there have been incidents of the surface "clouding" over and eventually flaking off. I can't find any information on a mole that sheds or peels.

Does anyone know why this is happening, or if it is a sign of a possible problem?


I have a someone in my family who has a black cluster on her face. Could this be cancer?


In all seriousness, if you have a mole that you are concerned about, see a dermatologist or your PCP at the least.


i have a mole on my under arm and it has been there for a long time. It is small and near flat and pink but twice in the past two years it has raised and turned black and now it has a reddish area around it and i am not sure what it is, also one part of the red area is a bit darker than the rest.

it usually just goes away and back to flat and pink but the red part never showed before. Should i be worried? I can't get it checked yet because i don't currently have insurance or the money for the doctor visit.


can i please have an answer for this?

i have a few moles and have had them all my life I am not bothered by them, but a few months ago i had quite a large spot on my back. i picked it and it left a scar, but instead of gradually fading like my scars normally do, it just stayed there

my boyfriend noticed it a month ago and i told him it was just a scar and when i looked in the mirror today i see the scar has turned into a mole! but not a proper mole -- it's a beige color and is a uneven ovalish thing and it has like three tiny, light hairs. i totally have just freaked out. could it be cancer?


i have a mole below my lip, or around the left side of my chin area and one on the middle of my thigh. They are both pretty big and have grown since I was little. I'm 14 years old and I really want to get them removed and I'm worried it's cancerous considering its shape but I'm in a financial crisis. What should I do?


Attention all teens! I would consider myself to be a very attractive female. I am very light fair skinned with blonde hair and I am 34 years old now.

Growing up all the girls I thought were prettier than me were tan so I wanted to be tan also. The only way for me to do that was to tan in a tanning bed. If I tanned in a bed and got a base tan then I could tan all summer and not burn. I've done this since I was 17 or 18 years old.

I did not tan that often -- just enough to give myself some color so I did not burn. My mother-in-law told me what I was doing to my skin was bad but what did she know? I didn't listen to her.

Well, last year I had a mole on my back come back as stage two melanoma. They cut out about a 4" x 3" football shaped cone out of my back. It has been a year later and I went to the dermatologist yesterday, I had three moles sent off for biopsy and four pre-cancerous ones frozen off my face. I know what to look for when it comes to moles but I didn't even see the one she found on my back by my bra strap.

So my advice is stay out of the tanning beds and use sunless tan.


i am only sixteen but i had to get my birth mark removed at two because it was weird and possibly cancerous but it wasn't. i have many moles but i have a big one on the back of my neck.

According to my brother and mom it has a dark spot in the middle of it and has a light brown circle around it now and it wasn't there before. Is this bad?


I'm a 27 year old female. I just had a mole removed last August, because it was slightly active, and I was told it could turn into cancer in a couple years. Now the mole is growing back, and I am still getting the same nerve pain, and itching I had before I had it removed. Is it still active?

Also I am having new moles appear in other areas. Should I be concerned? I have an appointment this August to see the doctor, but this all has been bothering me and I don't know if I should go sooner.


I recently had two moles grow on my chest. They are really small and round and they are brown. I am only 14 years old. Should I be concerned?


Hi, I'm 14, and I was trying to look at my back with a mirror, and I found three new dots on me. I usually get a lot of small freckle like dots that are perfectly shaped circles, and are only a little darker than my skin. But this mole was very very dark, almost black, and it was oval, but with an odd point, so I guess you could say it looks like a tooth. Should I get this checked out?


Hello, i have a mole about 2 cm big and it is oval shaped. Is this cancerous?


I am 21. I have 2 moles on under my are arm pit and on the back of my calf. please reply back. do i have cancer?


I have a mole on my back which is not symmetrical and may be a square inch in size. It has been like that since my birth. Is it cancerous?


i have a raised place on my shoulder. i was carrying aheavy bag that kept rubbing on it. it's now been a week and half of it has changed a darker color. It now feels dry and it's really sore. it feels as though half of it is hanging off and going to fall off. i can't touch it because it really hurts?

should i get it checked out or will it just heal?


my grandson is 5 years old and he has two moles on his back that have a halo lighter than his skin around them. should we be concerned?


I'm 14 And I Have A Mole On My Back And It Is Quite Big And Dark Should I Be Concerned?


I noticed a mole on my private area..can moles appear in this region?


i have a mole on my lower back and it used to be a lighter brown and fairly small. it's now a very dark brown and larger. i'm 14 and my mom just had a mole removed because it was cancerous and they had to go in deeper to cut the rest out. skin cancer is very common in my family. we are fairly light skinned.

should i be concerned?


i have a mole on my arm that is slightly raised above the skin and until recently i have notice that there are some white spots in the middle. winter has just passed and i haven't been in the sun that often with a t-shirt. could it be cancerous?


I'm almost 15 years old and recently I've been having headaches in a very concentrated spot in my head. I was feeling that area of my head and I found a small bump there, should I get it checked out, or are the painful headaches and the bump nothing to worry about? Please help!


Im not sure if Ive always had a small mole on my shoulder back and it grew or if it just appeared overnight, but its raised off the skin and had a purplish color to it. Are colorful moles a sign of skin cancer?


I have a mole above my vagina. it comes up above the skin slightly, so its not a big round mole, but it is in a circular shape, its smaller that the eraser bottom of a pencil. Its light brown all around except to little blotches of dark brown, i haven't noticed it until today. It doesn't hurt or irritate me, but is it a cancer mole? and im only 16.


For those curious about moles that may seem weird-- it is always better to have any mole that concerns you evaluated by a physician. It takes a few minutes, and they may take a small sample of the mole. Skin cancer, particularly of the melanoma type is serious business that can easily metastasize to other organs. Always check with a doctor if you are concerned about the size, shape, color or behavior of a mole.


I have a mole on my leg that stays a flesh color most of the time. It is slightly raised up and doesn't hurt when it is peach colored. Sometimes it changes colors. It gets blood red with a light red rash on the skin around the mole and gets sore, and sometimes it turns black. It will stay this way for a few days the go back to the peach color. Any ideas of what this may be?


I am 14 and I have a mole above my lip and under my nose and the nose one hurts pretty bad..does that mean anything?


If you have any concern at all, you should go to a doctor or dermatologist!! If the mole is cancerous, and you catch it early it can be easily removed. I recently had a mole removed from my back that was basal cell skin cancer. Removing it stopped the cancer from spreading- and I'm fine. I also had another removed on my chest because it looked like it could become cancerous.

The one on my back itched and had accidentally opened a few times. I had no idea that that was dangerous until my mom saw it. The one on my chest was asymmetrical. It was a cluster of brown bumps, but some of them were sticking out in odd directions. (It kind of looked like a "P")

I'm only 21 folks. I'm Mrs. sit under the umbrella, with my clothes on, with 50 spf on, reapplying constantly. I don't tan. I burn. Now that I've had a cancerous mole, I have a 40% more of skin cancer in the future.

Please protect yourself, and if you THINK something is wrong, go to a doctor, google pictures of cancerous moles. Do something! It could save your life.


OK. About a year ago I was dong my hair and I noticed a mole on my head about the size of a pea. and I was told not to worry about it but it has changed it has a white dot in the middle of it now. And I noticed another one like 3 inches to the left of the 1st one the second on is really light. Im 15 and I don't know if I should worry about them?


about 2 years ago one day while doing my hair i noticed i had a new mole about the size of the end of a pencil eraser on my ear i was shocked like it just apeared over night since then it has stayed the same size and has not grown it is round in shape should i be concerned right now i have no health insurance so i have not got it checked


I have a mole on my back, and today I just noticed a mole on my leg! I am only 14, so I hope its okay. I know you can devolp moles until you are 20.


I have had a mole on my head since i was born(13 years ago) i think. i also had a big one on my back which was removed and i have a few small ones on my body which look like freckles to be honest but the doctor says they are small moles.

Recently the mole on my head has started to hurt and I'm really scared it could be cancerous :(

What do you think?


i have a mole that on my nose that has been here for 23 years. over he past couple of months I've noticed that it has been growing and changing colors. it went from black to a light brown ash color. should i be concerened?

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    • A fairly symmetrical skin mole.
      By: paulandlara
      A fairly symmetrical skin mole.
    • An asymmetrical mole with blurred edges.
      By: Ana Gram
      An asymmetrical mole with blurred edges.
    • Woman with a mole above her upper lip.
      By: donatellina
      Woman with a mole above her upper lip.
    • Tanning beds can raise the risk of skin cancer.
      By: .shock
      Tanning beds can raise the risk of skin cancer.
    • In most cases, skin cancer develops when skin cells are irrevocably damaged by the sun's rays.
      By: Netwalker
      In most cases, skin cancer develops when skin cells are irrevocably damaged by the sun's rays.
    • Skin cancer can only be truly diagnosed through lab tests on suspect moles.
      By: Alexander Raths
      Skin cancer can only be truly diagnosed through lab tests on suspect moles.