Signs & Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in melanocytes, which are the cells that color the skin. Melanomas can affect any area of skin on your body. While melanomas most often develop in areas that have had higher exposure to the sun, such as your face, arms, back, and legs, they can also occur in areas that don’t receive as much such exposure, such as the palms of your hands, fingernail beds, and soles of your feet.

Usually, the first sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin, or a change in the shape, size, or color of an existing mole. With that said, there are times melanoma can occur on otherwise normal-appearing skin. Therefore, you need to become familiar with your skin. Monthly skin checks can help reveal anything that appears out of the ordinary. If you come across and suspicious spots on your skin, you should have them evaluated right away. The sooner melanoma is diagnosed, the better chance of a positive treatment outcome.

Not All Melanoma Will Look Like a Mole


Learn the ABCDEs of Skin Cancer

The ABCDE method can alert you on whether an abnormal skin growth may be melanoma or some other type of skin cancer:

  • A – Asymmetry: Half of the mole or mark doesn’t match the other half.

    A for Asymmetry Skin Cancer

    Fig. 1

  • B – Border: Irregular, blurry, jagged, or notched edges.

    Melanoma skin cancer border image

    Fig. 2

  • C – Color: a Non-uniform color that includes different shades of black or brown or red, white, pink, or blue patches.

    Color of melanoma image

    Fig. 3

  • D – Diameter: The growth is more than ¼ inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser.)

    Large diameter of melanoma

    Fig. 4

  • E – Evolving: The mole is changing color/shape or growing larger.

Not all skin cancers follow the rules listed above; however, many do. Therefore, when in doubt about any mark on your skin that seems unusual, it is best to have it checked out by your doctor.

Other symptoms of melanoma can include:

  • Sores that refuse to heal
  • Redness, swelling, pain, or itchiness around a mole
  • A spot that is expanding into the surrounding skin
  • Unexplained swelling or redness around a mole
  • Scaliness, bleeding or oozing on the surface of a mole

When to See a Doctor

If you find anything that could be a sign of melanoma, your doctor should examine it. It is better to be safe and have peace of mind, even if it turns out not to be cancer.

Sometimes, a skin cancer specialist can determine whether the mark is cancerous or not just by looking at it. However, a skin biopsy— removing the suspicious area for testing— may be best. If your melanoma has been detected early enough, a dermatologist may be able to treat it. If not, they will refer you to an oncologist.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, so regularly checking our skin for changes and lesions that might indicate cancer is imperative. If you find a suspicious area, seek medical attention. In most cases, if melanoma is found early, it is easily treatable without further problems or unpleasant side effects.

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Photography Sources:

  • Figure 1: Unknown Photographer. (1988). Asymmetrical Melanoma. [Digital Image]. Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Figure 2: Unknown Photographer. (1988). Melanoma with Uneven Border. [Digital Image]. Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Figure 3: Unknown Photographer. (1988). Melanoma with Color Differences. [Digital Image]. Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Figure 4: Unknown Photographer. (1988). Melanoma with Diameter Change. [Digital Image]. Skin Cancer Foundation.

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