The ABCDE guide for early detection of melanoma is a simple, easy-to-remember method of determining if a mole, whether on your scalp or another area of your body, might be melanoma.
By monitoring your moles and having them looked at by a dermatologist, you can often spot melanoma before it becomes a serious problem.
Look for these signs:
- Asymmetry. Imagine a line bisecting the mole. Do the halves appear mismatched?
- Border. Look at the edges of the mole. Are they irregular, ragged, or blurred?
- Color. Consider the regularity of the color. Does the mole have different shades of brown, black, red, pink, blue, or gray?
- Diameter. Look at the size. Although melanomas can sometimes be smaller, is the mole bigger than the size of a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch across)?
- Evolving. Examine your skin. Do you notice any new moles? Have any existing moles changed in shape, size, or color?
Each of these characteristics could be a sign of a cancerous mole.
Talk with your dermatologist if you have a mole:
- that itches, is painful, or swollen.
- with a border that appears to spread into the skin around it
- that bleeds easily
- that’s red and rough
- that oozes
- that’s changed from flat to raised
Another warning sign is a mole that seems to be unique to other moles on your body and doesn’t fit in with the moles around it.
There are two primary types of moles: the common mole and the dysplastic nevus.
A common mole, or nevus, forms when melanocytes, or pigment cells, grow in a cluster.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the majority of adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These moles are seldom found on the scalp.
Typically smaller than 1/4 inch wide, common moles tend to have a:
- round or oval shape
- distinct edge
- smooth surface and are often dome-shaped
- even coloring, such as pink, tan, or brown
People with light skin and hair commonly have lighter moles than people with dark skin or hair.
When referring to a dysplastic nevus, your dermatologist might call it an atypical mole, as it looks different from a common mole.
Not only is a dysplastic nevus often larger than a common mole — it’s typically more than 1/4 inch wide — but its surface, color, and border may also appear different.
A dysplastic nevus usually:
- is flat
- has a smooth or pebbly surface
- has a mixture of colors ranging from pink to brown
- has an irregular edge
Although a dysplastic nevus is often found on skin that’s been exposed to the sun, it can also appear in areas not exposed to the sun, including the scalp.
Birthmarks, like moles, can appear anywhere on your body, including your scalp, and need to be monitored.
If you have concerns about a birthmark that doesn’t pass the ABCDE guide, bleeds, or itches, consult your dermatologist.
Different types of birthmarks include:
Pigmented birthmarks are types of skin discoloration you were born with. They include:
- Beauty marks. These are small, round spots that can be skin-toned, brown, black, or pink.
- Café au lait spots. These are flat, tan spots that may spread over large areas of the skin.
- Mongolian spots. These marks have a slightly blue hue and appear on darker skin.
Caused by a capillary malformation in the skin prior to birth, these birthmarks include:
- Nevus flammeus. Also known as a port-wine stain, this mark is a maroon patch that resembles spilled red wine.
- Nevus flammeus nuchae. This mark, which is also referred to as salmon patch or stork bite, is lighter than a port-wine stain.
Moles are very common and can appear on any part of the body. They happen when melanocytes, or skin pigment cells, grow in a cluster.
A mole on your scalp is often out of your line of sight and can be hidden under your hair. Ask somebody, such as a friend or loved one, to help you keep an eye on a mole on your scalp, or another part of your body, that’s hard to spot.
Be sure note to any changes, and bring them to the attention of your dermatologist.