In a sense, you are your own dermatologist. If you see a new mole, give yourself the alphabet exam:
Is it asymmetrical?
Is the border irregular?
Is there any color variation?
Is it larger than 6 millimeters in diameter?
Is it evolving?
One "yes" and you need to see a real dermatologist. However, a "no" on all of them doesn't mean you're safe, so answer these follow-up questions, says David J. Leffell, M.D., chief of dermatologic surgery at Yale school of medicine.
Is it inflamed?
The skin around the mole may look red and/or feel warm. "Your body can develop an immune reaction to abnormal pigment cells," Dr. Leffell explains. White blood cells flock to the area and release inflammatory chemicals to fight off invaders.
Does it itch?
This is another side effect of an immune reaction, says Dr. Leffell. The scratchy sensation will be local, as with a bug bite.
Is it oozing?
That's a possible sign of later-stage melanoma. "Cancers need a blood supply to grow," Dr. Leffell says. "If a tumor's growth outstrips its blood supply, the surface of your skin can break down." Puslike liquid, and possibly blood, seeps out and may cause crusting, he says.
Are you suspicious?
"People have an incredible sixth sense about their bodies," says Dr. Leffell. "I call it the Bloomingdale's rule of dermatology--the customer is always right." If you're concerned about a mole, symptoms aside, request a biopsy.
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