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What is Melanoma?

Moles are benign, or noncancerous, growths. Most people have between 10 to 40 moles on their skin. Moles may be brown, pink, or tan. Moles may be flat or raised and are usually round or oval. Melanoma, on the other hand, is a cancerous growth that can spread to other parts of the body. It occurs when pigment cells become malignant, divide without control, and invade the tissue around them. Melanoma is usually found on visible skin but can also occur inside the eye or around the anus.

It's important to distinguish between moles and melanoma. The acronym ABCDE is an easy way to remember how to distinguish if a suspicious skin lesion needs the attention of a healthcare provider. ABCDE stands for:

  • A = Asymmetry: the shape of one half does not match the other half
  • B = Borders: uneven, ragged, or irregular
  • C = Color: variegated (different colors are present and might include black, brown, tan, white, gray, red, pink, or blue)
  • D = Diameter greater than 6mm: larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch)
  • E = Enlargement or Evolution: change in size, color, shape, or symptoms

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