Melanoma is a scary disease because it can often look quite similar to harmless looking blemishes, like a mole or a freckle. According to DermNet New Zealand, about 75% of melanomas are new spots that appear in otherwise normal looking skin. The rest will form from an existing mole or spot. The key to early detection is knowing the warning signs that distinguish the harmless from the dangerous.
What’s a freckle?
A freckle is a small brown spot that forms on the skin as a result of genetics and UV exposure. These are benign spots that are more common in fair-skinned individuals. They require no treatment but they are usually a sign that you should be more diligent about wearing sunscreen and spend more time away from the sun. People who freckle easily are more likely to develop skin cancer.
When a freckle is something to worry about
So how can you tell when a freckle is something more than just a freckle? Most melanomas usually share a few tell-tale warning signs.
Inspect your freckles and moles for the following indicators of melanoma, also known as the ABCDE method:
|A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles and freckles are usually symmetrical.
|B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous lesions have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
|C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign freckles or moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
|D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are typically greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
|E – Evolution
The evolution of your mole or freckle is the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a freckle has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
It’s important to note that not all melanomas will follow the ABCDE method. Nodular melanoma will grow vertically into the skin and has its own characteristics to be aware of and there are also some other types of melanoma that exhibit a typical symptoms. While most freckles are harmless, be sure to check your body from head-to-toe every month to notice any changes or new growths that have occurred. At the first sign of suspicion, have your freckle, blemish or mole checked out by your doctor or dermatologist to be sure it’s okay.