What does melanoma look like?
“Is this melanoma?” This is one of the most frequently-asked questions we hear. Most cutaneous (skin) melanomas are found by patients, not doctors, so it is important to know your skin and body well so you can recognize when a mole isn’t “just a mole.” Melanoma can look different from person to person, but if you suspect that a spot on your skin fits the following descriptions, talk to your dermatologist right away. Not all skin cancers and melanomas fall into these categories, so use this list as a starting point:
- A change on the skin – this could be a new spot, or a change in color, shape or size of a current spot
- A spot, sore or mole that doesn’t heal, becomes painful or becomes tender
- A mole that becomes itchy or begins to bleed
- A spot, sore, mole or lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth or pale
- A firm red lump that bleeds or appears crusty
- A flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly
- A black/dark spot or streak under a fingernail or toenail (that hasn’t come from previous trauma to the nail)
The ABCDEs of Melanoma
NEW: The MRF is proud to offer the ABCDEs of Melanoma in the following languages:
These characteristics are used by dermatologists to classify melanomas of the skin. Look for these signs: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, more than one or uneven distribution of Color, or a large (greater than 6mm) Diameter. Finally, pay attention to the Evolution of your moles – know what’s normal for your skin and check it regularly for changes.1-2
If you see one or more of these, make an appointment with a dermatologist immediately.
A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolution (or change)
The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
Want this information as a handout? Download the ABCDEs of Melanoma
Acral Melanoma Pictures
(Under the nail bed, this is often referred to as subungual melanoma)
Source: Photos courtesy of Dr. Guowen Wang in the Department of Soft Tissue Cancer, Tianjin Cancer Center, Tianjin Medical University
Ocular Melanoma Pictures
Photo 1: Small choroidal melanoma showing high risk orange pigment; Photo 2: Medium choroidal melanoma near the optic disc showing blood where the tumor has ruptured through the overlying Bruch’s membrane to form a “collar button”; Source: Photos courtesy of Dr. J. William Harbour of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
- National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, https://moles-melanoma-tool.cancer.gov/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/symptoms.htm
Content last updated: June 3, 2020