Could YOUR mole be cancerous? Checking is as simple as ABCDE: Simple guide that doctors

Sarah Ferguson last night revealed she is battling skin cancer.

The Duchess of York‘s shock revelation comes just months after she underwent an operation for breast cancer.

Sarah, the 64-year-old ex-wife of Prince Andrew, had several moles removed during reconstructive surgery following her mastectomy in June. 

One was later identified as cancerous.

Following her diagnosis with malignant melanoma — the fifth most common cancer in the UK — Sarah urged fans to ‘be diligent’ and check their moles. 

Around 16,000 Brits are diagnosed with melanoma each year. It is typically caused by exposure to UV light, which comes from the sun and artificial tanning beds. 

Melanoma can either start as a new mole, or in a mole you already have.

Here, MailOnline reveals the simple, ABCDE checklist that doctors use to spot melanomas…  

Sarah Ferguson has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Pictured: The Duchess of York at Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church

Sarah Ferguson has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Pictured: The Duchess of York at Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church

Sarah Ferguson pictured with her ex-husband Prince Andrew and Maria Laura Salinas at Royal Ascot in June 2019

Sarah Ferguson pictured with her ex-husband Prince Andrew and Maria Laura Salinas at Royal Ascot in June 2019

A – asymmetrical

This refers to the symmetry of your mole. 

Looking for moles with an uneven or irregular shape could help you spot an early sign of a melanoma. 

That’s because, unlike normal moles which are usually round with smooth edges, melanomas are often not symmetrical. 

They may have two different shaped halves and uneven edges, according to the NHS

If a mole stands out and looks different to your other moles, it’s advised to get it checked by your GP.  

B – border

This refers to the shape of the edges of your mole.  

Melanomas are also more likely to have irregular edges or might have blurred or jagged edges, Cancer Research UK says.

For comparison, Macmillan says ordinary moles ‘usually have a clear, smooth-edged border’.

They can appear on any part of the body.

In men, melanomas are most commonly found on the back and in women the most common site is the legs, the charity says. 

Sarah Ferguson pictured with her daughters Princess Beatrice (left) and Princess Eugenie (right) at the Masterpiece Midsummer Party at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 2013

Sarah Ferguson pictured with her daughters Princess Beatrice (left) and Princess Eugenie (right) at the Masterpiece Midsummer Party at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 2013

C – colour

This refers to the colour of your mole.  

A mole with different shades and colours could be a melanoma. 

Melanomas can have different shades from a mix of brown and black to red, pink, white or even a blue tint, says Macmillan. 

However, normal moles are usually only shades of brown. 

Some people with pale skin or fair hair get melanomas which are red and pink, but not brown, says Macmillan.

The charity adds that this is called amelanotic melanoma and is rare in comparison to other types of melanoma.   

D – diameter 

This refers to the size of your mole and how wide it is.  

Usually moles are only the size of the end of a pencil or smaller. But if you spot a mole that is more than 6mm wide it could be a melanoma.  

Macmillan says that for people with lots of moles, including some that are above 5mm, they are likely to have been there for years without changing. 

‘It is recommended that people with lots of moles or bigger moles get them checked by a dermatologist,’ the charity says. ‘This is important if you have had changes to moles in the past.’

E – evolving 

This refers to how your mole might be evolving and changing.  

Most harmless moles stay the same shape over time, but melanomas often get bigger change shape and even colour. 

The change in shape can include the area becoming raised or dome-shaped, says Macmillan. If the mole is flat, it may stay that way but become wider, it adds.

It’s not just size and shape to watch out for melanomas can also become swollen and sore. 

This can cause them to become itchy or tingly, bleed and also appear crusty, the NHS warns.

Some melanomas develop from existing moles and grow on what was previously normal skin, says Cancer Research UK. 

So, it is important to keep an eye on changes and if any ‘normal moles’ become itchy, swollen or start to become irritated.  

But the earlier a melanoma is found the easier it is to treat, so it is important to see your GP as soon as possible if you have these skin changes, warns Cancer Research UK.

What is malignant melanoma? 

Malignant melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes, cells found in the upper layer of skin that produce melanin, which gives skin its colour.

While less common that other types of skin cancer, it is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not treated at an early stage.


A new mole or a change in an existing mole may be signs of melanoma.

Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but they’re more common in areas that are often exposed to the sun.

Some rarer types can affect the eyes, soles of the feet, palms of the hands or genitals.

Check your skin for any unusual changes. Use a mirror or ask a partner or friend to check any areas you cannot see.

In particular, look for: 

  • Moles with an uneven shape or edges 
  • Moles with a mix of colours 
  • Large moles – melanomas often tend to be more than 6mm wide 
  • Moles that change size, shape or colour over time


Ultraviolet (UV) light is the most common cause of melanoma. It comes from the sun and is used in sunbeds.

Melanoma is more common in older people, but younger people can also get it.

You’re also more likely to get melanoma if you have:

  • Pale skin that burns easily in the sun 
  • Red or blonde hair 
  • Blue or green eyes 
  • A large number of freckles or moles 
  • Had a lot of sun exposure and you’ve had sunburn a lot in the past 
  • Used sunbeds a lot 
  • A history of skin cancer in your family or you’ve had skin cancer before

If you have black or brown skin, you have a lower chance of getting melanoma, but you can still get it. 


Staying safe in the sun is the best way to lower your chance of getting skin cancer (both melanoma and non-melanoma). 

Do the following:

  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm in the UK)
  • Keep your arms and legs covered and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that provide protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and at least 4-star UVA protection – make sure you reapply it regularly
  • Make sure babies and children are protected from the sun – their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin


Melanoma skin cancer can often be treated. The treatment you have will depend on where it is, if it has spread and your general health.

Surgery is the main treatment for melanoma. Radiotherapy, medicines and chemotherapy are also sometimes used.

Surgery could involve removing the melanoma and an area of healthy skin around it, swollen lymph nodes if the cancer has spread to them and other parts of the body if it has spread to them.

If a large part of skin has to be removed, a skin graft might be needed which could see kin taken from another part of the body to cover the area where the melanoma was.

Radiotherpay is sometimes used to reduce the size of large melanomas and help control and relieve symptoms.

Targeted medicines and immotherapy are used to treat melanomas that can’t be dealt with by surgery, or have spread to lymph glands or other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells, is sometimes used to treat advanced melanoma when it has spread to another part of the body. It does not work as well as other treatments, but can be used if you are unable to have them.

How dangerous is it?

Generally for people with melanoma in England:

  • almost all people (almost 100%) will survive their melanoma for 1 year or more after they are diagnosed
  • around 90 out of every 100 people (around 90%) will survive their melanoma for 5 years or more after diagnosis
  • more than 85 out of every 100 people (more than 85%) will survive their melanoma for 10 years or more after they are diagnosed

Sources: NHS, the Skin Cancer Foundation and Cancer Research UK

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