The ‘ABCDE’ Test to Identify the Most Dangerous Form of Skin Cancer: Melanoma

June 4, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

Our skin is so much a part of us that we don’t even think about its health the way we would about important organs like the heart and lungs, or even our teeth. Yet our skin is uniquely vulnerable to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which can cause sunburn, skin damage, and even melanoma, the medical term for skin cancer.

What puts people at risk for skin cancer? When we spend lots of time outdoors in the spring and summer months, in the heat of the day (especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and don’t wear adequate protection in the form of clothing, hats, and sunscreen, we expose ourselves to the dangers of UV rays. Using tanning beds can cause similar problems.

This kind of radiation doesn’t just change the color of our skin, it actually damages the DNA of skin cells, creating the conditions for potentially deadly growths. Beyond avoiding too much direct sunlight, however, there’s another way to keep cancer at bay.

Today, we’ll look at a simple and trusted method for checking moles or spots on your skin or your loved ones to see if there’s reason for concern. While this handy test for melanoma should never replace a doctor’s evaluation, it can definitely help you be aware of what’s going on with your skin.

The test is simple as the first five letters of the alphabet: A-B-C-D-E.

“A” is for “Asymmetry”

Check the mole or moles in question. Are they perfectly round or does the mole seem to have two separate halves, one bigger than the other? If this is the case, you might have cause for concern.


Notice the uneven shape (Illustration – Shutterstock | Nasekomoe)

A normal mole on the other hand shouldn’t be irregularly shaped. It should look circular and even.


This regularly shaped circle is benign (Illustration – Shutterstock | Albina Glisic)

“B” is for “Border”

Now that we have looked at the shape, let’s look at the edges or boundaries of the mole. Are they “ragged, notched, or blurred in outline” as the American Cancer Society describes melanoma? If so, go to the doctor right away as you might have developed a cancerous growth.


Notice the blotchy, ragged outline (Illustration – Shutterstock | Nasekomoe)


Here, the outline is regular and the same all the way around (Illustration – Shutterstock | Big Foot Productions)

“C” is for “Color”

After checking the shape and outline of the mole, the next characteristic to look at is the color. While benign moles can be different colors, if within one mole you see different colors coexisting, this could be a red flag. Any multicolored moles, especially those with what the ACS called “patches of pink, red, white, or blue,” are suspect.


Note the lighter and darker patches (Illustration – Shutterstock | Nasekomoe)


Note the consistent color throughout (Illustration – Shutterstock | ntstudio)

“D” is for “Diameter”

While non-threatening moles can vary in size, if the spot in question is larger than the eraser of common #2 pencil, then you need to get it checked out. According to ACS, the size to look for is about a quarter of an inch or 6 millimeters. It’s important to remember that melanomas can be under this size, so the diameter test needs to be done along with the rest of A-B-C-D-E.


The large size is a giveaway (Illustration – Shutterstock | D. Kucharski K. Kucharska)


The mole should be smaller than the eraser of your pencil (Illustration – Shutterstock | Big Foot Productions)

“E” is for “Evolving”

One of the biggest tip-offs for cancerous growths is in the name. They grow! When the sun damages the DNA of your skin, it can particularly affect the way cells grow. This is how melanoma starts. So if you see your mole increasing in size, whether steadily or rapidly, go in to the dermatologist and get it checked out.

Size isn’t the only thing to look for. Any other changes in the other factors, such as color or border, are also indicators of serious trouble. Keep your eye on your moles, and if you have trouble telling whether they’ve changed, start taking pictures with your phone’s selfie camera to have a record.


Growing, blurring, changing color? All of these are signs to look for ( Illustration – Shutterstock | Nasekomoe)


A benign mole will the stay the same in every way over time (Illustration – Shutterstock | Big Foot Productions)

Take the time to do the A-B-C-D-E test for yourself, your spouse, your kids, and other loved ones. Cancer is always best treated when it’s detected early, so be vigilant and stay safe!