Signs and Symptoms

Usually, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. A black or blue-black area is usually present. A new, black, abnormal mole may also indicate a melanoma.

You and your doctor may use the “ABCD” method to remember what to look for:

Asymmetry – The shape of one half does not match the other.
Border – The edges may be blurred, ragged, notched, or irregular in outline and the pigment may spread into surrounding skin.

Color – The color is uneven, with shades of brown, tan, and black present. There may also be areas of white, red, blue, gray, or pink.

Diameter – There is an increase in size. Melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser (1/4 inch or 5 mm).

A melanoma may have all of these characteristics or only one or two, but a physician should be consulted as soon as possible, if any characteristics are present.

Early melanomas may be discovered by a slight change in the look of a pre-existing mole, or the development of itching or fine scales. There may also be a reddish edge, a slight oozing, and small brown lesions around the edge of the mole. More advanced disease may cause the mole to feel hard or lumpy. Melanomas do not usually cause pain.

Melanoma can be cured if diagnosed early, before it has a chance to deeply invade the skin. A thick and deep melanoma often spreads to other parts of the body and is very difficult to cure.

Some people have abnormal-looking moles called dysplastic nevi (atypical moles).

These moles are more likely to develop into melanomas. Actually, dysplastic nevi look like melanoma, and only a physician trained in skin diseases (dermatologist) should decide how the mole should be treated.

Some families have a large number of members with dysplastic nevi and some members with melanoma. Members of these families have a very high risk of melanoma and should have frequent checkups (every three to six months) in order to detect problems early.