Monitor your moles, and look for the warning signs

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Wondering if you should have that mole on your arm checked out? There have been a few updates on what you should look out for. Most dermatologists now recommend the following:

* Look for "ugly ducklings." The Skin Cancer Foundation recently promoted this simple screen for identifying potentially cancerous lesions: Just look at the moles on your body and note any that look significantly different from the others -- the ugly ducklings. The ugly-duckling approach is based on the fact that most people have stereotypical mole patterns. In some people, they may all appear light brown and flat. In others, they may be darker and raised. Any mole that looks different from the others should be examined by a dermatologist.

* Look for changes. Most melanomas arise out of the blue, not from already-existing moles. Any new skin lesion is reason to head for the dermatologist's office. But some melanomas come from moles gone bad. Any change in the shape, size or color of an existing mole should also be examined.

* Remember the alphabet. Dermatologists recommend patients consider the letters ABCDE as a guide for self-screening, and have moles exhibiting any of the following characteristics checked out: Asymmetrical shape; border that is irregular; color that is inconsistent within the mole; diameter greater than one-fourth inch; and evolving, or changing in any of the criteria above, or in any other way.

* Pay attention to concerns of those who are close to you. That tip comes from Dr. Donald Morton, chief of the melanoma program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, whose wife, he says, diagnosed his melanoma years ago.

"I had a mole she didn't like the looks of," he says. "I said, 'But I'm a melanoma doctor! How could I have melanoma and not know it?' " On her insistence, he had a small, black mark biopsied, and it was a melanoma.

"That was 17 years ago," he says. "She may have saved my life."

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