Spotting a Cancerous Mole: What to Look For

The most common type of cancer to date is skin cancer. The good news is, you might be able to identify some early warning signs that could make treatment easier. Knowing what to look for when you’re checking your skin or scheduling a routine health check-up could prevent melanoma or other forms of skin cancer from progressing. 

Avoiding sun exposure is one such way that you might keep cancerous moles from developing. However, sun exposure isn’t the only factor that causes potentially dangerous moles.

Dr. Maria Joyce Bernabe, MD, and Santiago Centurion, MD, are board-certified dermatologists who specialize in diagnosing and treating various forms of skin cancer. If you’re concerned about a mole or birthmark, consider how our dedicated team of experts at Dermatology Associates of Central NJ can help. 

What moles are and how to identify them 

Moles usually show up in childhood or during early adulthood. They can be big, small, raised, flat, smooth, or wrinkled. They may vary by shape and color, although they most commonly show up as dark-brown spots. 

Moles can show up anywhere on your body, can change appearance, or fade over time. These skin spots are caused by clusters of cells that gather under the skin. While most are harmless, it is crucial to understand how to identify potentially malignant moles. 

How do I know if a mole is cancerous? 

Regularly checking your body for new moles, or abnormalities present in existing moles, could help you determine which may be harmful. For existing moles, you should use the ABCDE method to identify cancerous spots. 

THE ABCDE examination

Use the beginning letters of the alphabet to remember these basics when examining moles for signs of change or potential cancer: 

You should contact one of our specialists promptly if you suspect that you may be at risk for a precancerous growth. The earlier an evaluation is made, the better chance you have for a successful treatment.

How are moles removed?

One of our dermatologists will begin by performing a skin cancer screening. They will detect anything suspicious around areas where moles have undergone a significant change or abnormality. 

Dr. Bernabe or Dr. Centurion can help you become more familiar with your skin by increasing your awareness of other spots you should be watching. Removing a small piece for a biopsy is the only way to determine if a mole is benign or malignant. 

If your results detect cancerous cells, one of our specialists will advise treatment based on the type of cancer, where its located, and how deep it goes into the skin. Cancers that penetrate deep into the skin require surgery to remove all cancerous cells. Mohs surgery is used in the removal of all cancerous cells from the afflicted mole. This treatment method addresses moles that are precancerous or cancerous.

Having your mole removed will involve numbing the area and cutting the mole, along with the extra layer beneath the mole, off your skin. If the doctor determines that an additional layer needs to be removed, a follow-up procedure will be scheduled. After surgery, you will learn if the cancerous cells have been successfully removed. 


Preventing skin cancer starts with protecting yourself from sun exposure. You should wear sunscreen and lip balm with SPF 30 or higher daily. Sunscreen must be reapplied every couple of hours and should be applied at least thirty minutes before sun exposure. Wearing a hat is an excellent way to avoid moles on your scalp. Tanning beds and other forms of harmful ultraviolet radiation should be avoided as much as possible. 

If you’re worried about a mole that is showing unusual traits, call our office or book an appointment online today.

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