Sometimes a mole is a mole. Other times, it’s cancerous. How can you tell the difference?

Moles are common, even in children. Some darken, others remain light in color. Almost every adult has a mole, and some have as many as 40 on their skin. But moles can also be indicators of melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

According to David Peng, MD, MPH, chair of the USC Department of Dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, if you are suspicious about a mole, your best course of action is to “have a dermatologist take a look.”

“We are trained to identify moles that may be indications of skin cancer,” Dr. Peng told media site ATTN:.

How do you know if your mole is okay? Dr. Peng, who also is a dermatologist at Keck Medicine of USC, suggests following the Skin Cancer Foundation’s ABCDE’s for detecting warning signs of melanoma:

A – Asymmetry
Is your mole round, or is it oddly shaped? An asymmetrical mole is a clear warning sign for melanoma.

B – Border
Moles that are uneven and irregular in shape or have a faint edge or border should be checked out.

C – Color
Moles that are multicolored, red, white or blueish-black can signal melanoma. Most benign moles are one color.

D – Diameter
Worrisome moles can start small but tend to grow larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

E – Evolving
Does your mole change in size, color, or shape over time? Does it bleed, itch, or crust over? These are indicators that it could be melanoma.

Dr. Peng said that people who are fair-skinned, burn easily or have a large number of moles are at higher risk for the disease. Even so, “a mole can meet all five of the ABCDE criteria and not be dangerous,” according to Dr. Peng.

If your mole is cancerous, the good news is that early intervention can eliminate the cancer or prevent it from spreading.

Ashley Wysong, MD, MS, assistant professor of clinical dermatology and director of Mohs and dermatologic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, performs routine surgery on melanoma patients as a dermatologist at USC Dermatology at Keck Medicine of USC. “When caught in the early stages, melanoma very rarely goes outside of the skin and is highly curable,” Dr. Wysong said. “Your dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon will be able to surgically remove the cancer using local anesthesia.”

Are you concerned about a mole on your skin? USC Dermatology at Keck Medicine of USC is recognized nationally for providing the highest quality of dermatology care.

Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to learn more. If you are in the Los Angeles area, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visit http://dermatology.keckmedicine.org/

By Heidi Tyline King