With melanoma, knowing the warning signs is important. Practicing regular skin self-exams may help you catch melanoma early, when it’s easiest to treat.
Our team of skin cancer experts uses the latest research and advanced techniques to diagnose and treat melanoma. Our caring staff works with you to customize a treatment plan to ensure you receive the most effective therapies with the least impact on your body.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma?
Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body. About 30% of melanomas are found in existing moles, with 70% forming on normal-looking skin. They usually develop on skin exposed to sun, such as the legs, arms and face. Melanomas also can be “hidden” on the soles of the feet, palms and fingernail beds, which is more common in people with darker skin.
The first warning signs of melanoma people notice usually are:
- Change in color, size and/or shape of an existing mole
- A new, irregular-looking brown, black and/or red spot or growth
Additional warning signs of possible melanoma are:
- A wound that isn’t healing
- Pigment that has spread beyond the border of a mole
- Swelling/redness outside the border of a mole
- Itchiness, tenderness or pain in a mole
- Mole surface changes such as bleeding, scaliness or the appearance of a bump or lump
When melanoma becomes more advanced, you may begin to feel physical symptoms. If melanoma has started to spread (metastasize) you may have:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A hard lump on your skin
- Yellowing of eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Unexplained pain
- Weight loss
- Fluid in your abdomen (ascites)
These symptoms don’t mean you necessarily have melanoma – they can be caused by other conditions. However, if you’ve been feeling unwell or noticed changes in your health that worry you, you should talk to your doctor. The earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the better chance for successful treatment.
What Does a Normal vs. an Abnormal Mole Look Like?
Normal moles are usually round or oval and smaller than a pencil eraser. They are one consistent color (usually tan, brown, or black), with a clear border. Most people have less than 50 moles. You can be born with moles, develop them with age or even have some disappear.
Cancerous, or malignant, moles may vary greatly in appearance. To help identify moles that might indicate melanoma, think of the letters A-B-C-D-E:
- A | Asymmetry: Mole is an irregular shape, such as if one side looks different than the other
- B | Border: Mole has irregular, ragged, notched or scalloped borders
- C | Color: Mole has more than one color or uneven shading
- D | Diameter: Mole is bigger than a pencil eraser
- E | Evolution: Mole changes in some way (growth, shape, color, texture, itches, bleeds, etc.)
Talk to your doctor, if you notice any skin changes that seem unusual.
Types of Melanoma
There are four main types of melanoma skin cancer:
- Superficial spreading melanoma: Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. It tends to grow outward, but also can start to grow down. It’s often flat and thin, with an uneven border and has shades of tan, brown, black, red, pink, blue or white. It can form from an existing mole or start a new lesion. It usually to develop on the central part of the body (trunk), arms and legs, the back in men and the legs in women.
- Nodular melanoma: Nodular melanoma is the second most common type of melanoma. It’s fast-spreading and grows down into the skin. It’s a raised growth, shaped like a mushroom, usually black, red, pink or skin colored. It can develop on skin exposed or not exposed to the sun.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma: Lentigo maligna melanoma develops most frequently in older people, appearing as a large, flat or slightly raised, blotchy patch with many shades of black and brown and an uneven border. It grows across the skin before it starts to grow down. It usually appears on skin regularly exposed to the sun without protection, such as the face, ears and arms.
- Hidden melanomas: Melanomas can also develop in areas of your body that have little or no exposure to the sun, such as between your toes, on your palms, soles, scalp or genitals. These are sometimes referred to as “hidden melanomas” because they occur in places most people wouldn't think to check. When melanoma occurs in people with darker skin, it's more likely to occur in a hidden area. Types of hidden melanomas include:
- Acral-lentiginous melanoma: A rare form of melanoma found under fingernails and toenails, or the palms of the hand and soles of the feet in people of color including those of African ancestry
- Mucosal melanoma: Melanoma in the mouth, nose, esophagus, digestive tract, urinary tract, anus or vagina, mouth, esophagus, anus, urinary tract and vagina
- Ocular melanoma: Melanoma in the eye most often occurs in the uvea (beneath the white of the eye) and may cause vision changes