Melanoma Symptoms: What Are the Signs to Look For

Melanoma usually develops on the skin. Educate yourself on the signs of melanoma to out look for.

Educational article by Dr Nitin Shori and Dr Alexandra Phelan.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which is often diagnosed at a late stage because of lack of awareness. Unfortunately, late diagnosis results in reduced survival rates.

Increasing knowledge among at-risk populations about melanoma symptoms is therefore vital in catching the condition early and improving survival rates.

melanoma signs abcde rule

Signs of Melanoma

When signs of melanoma are commonly known and concerning lesions may be able to be picked up at an earlier stage, cure rates are much higher and often only local removal of the lesion itself is required.

Later diagnosis often requires additional treatment such as chemotherapy which carries a higher risk of side effects.

Educating patients regarding melanoma warning signs and early melanoma symptoms is vital in increasing early detection. Melanoma is, however, often not easily detected – especially not in the earliest stages when it’s most treatable.

When looking for signs of melanoma, it is vital to particularly watch out for new skin lesions or changes in existing moles and marks.

That is why keeping an eye on your skin for melanoma symptoms should be done regularly with a particular emphasis on getting to know your skin, so you are better equipped to notice any changes at an early stage.

After going through the signs of melanoma, please read on to learn more about how you can create a habit of looking out for changes to your skin.

(Video walk-through of this article. No sound.)

What Are the Early Signs of Melanoma

There are different strategies to follow when evaluating whether a lesion could be a potential melanoma.

The most important and first warning sign of melanoma

  • The Ugly Duckling Sign

The ugly duckling sign is one of the most important signs of melanoma to look for. This is when a lesion looks very different than the other moles and marks on your skin.

ugly duckling sign

Remember, critically evaluating your own skin lesions can be difficult and if you are concerned about a mole, see your doctor. Patients can raise an early warning flag, but it is the doctor’s responsibility to finally evaluate if further action is needed.

Other early signs of melanoma include the following– also known as the ABCDE signs:

  • A – Asymmetry of lesions
  • B – Border changes
  • C – Irregular colour changes
  • D – A growing diameter
  • E – Evolving lesions

When you go through your full-body skin self-exam, look for lesions that present with one of the following melanoma symptoms:

A – Asymmetry of a lesion

Images supplied by DermNet NZ abcde melanoma - asymmetrical mole

If the two halves of the lesion do not match, then it can be said to be asymmetric, but keep in mind that by far most moles that have some asymmetry are not cancerous.

B – Border changes

abcde melanoma - change in border

The border is uneven in appearance and shows some irregularity – it may seem to be more rugged or notched in the edges.

C – Irregular changes in Colour

abcde of melanoma - mole changes colour

Do the lesion present with different colours or shades of brown / black / red? Melanomas can also have areas that are white or blue.

A change in colour of a lesion may also be a potential melanoma symptom.

D – Diameter of the lesion

abcde melanoma - mole size changes

Lesions that are bigger than the size of a pencil (proximally 6mm / ¼ inch) are, all else equal, riskier, but smaller lesions can also be of concern.

E – Evolution or Evolving

abcde melanoma - mole evolving

One of the most important melanoma signs and symptoms is a change or Evolution in an existing mole or skin lesion or a new lesion evolving from previously normal skin – particularly if you are over 35 years of age.

If a mole on your skin is starting to evolve or you notice some other changes, such as a lesion that increases in size or changes in colour, visit your GP and get it checked to rule out whether it could be the first sign of melanoma skin cancer.

It is also important to look out for any growing dome-shaped lesions on your skin.

Areas exposed to the sun or other sources of UV light are most commonly affected by melanoma. Melanoma symptoms can also include itching and bleeding of new or existing lesions.

It is important that you are aware that melanoma can occur practically anywhere on the body, even on the base of the feet or the nails and also in areas not often exposed by UV light. Blonde hair, fair skin and being a man over 50 are some of the main innate risk factors of melanoma and sun exposure and sunbeds are the main behavioural factors.

Other Melanoma Symptoms Apart from a Mark Resembling a Mole

You shouldn’t only be aware of pigmented or tanned lesions on your skin. It is also important to be aware of other uncommon lesions on your skin:

  • the lesion becomes elevated from the skin
  • the lesion grows in another manner – skin around it starts to become red or swells
  • the lesion doesn’t go away again within a few weeks

amelanotic melanoma skin cancer

Less common melanoma cancer symptoms include:

  • reduced vision
  • darkening colour changes under the nail
  • itchy scalp lesions

These melanoma features are often mistaken for other things, and if you have concerns, you must visit your doctor.

You can have a look at our melanoma picture gallery for image comparisons of melanoma and non-cancerous moles, and photo galleries of healthy benign moles and unusual-looking atypical moles.

Can Melanoma Be Caught Early?

Early melanoma is more likely to be treated successfully. Raising awareness of the early signs and symptoms of melanoma is therefore vital.

We should all regularly check our skin for any suspicious change but people at increased risk should be particularly vigilant and have a lower threshold for seeking assessment. If changes are noted or there are other concerns, it is important to visit your doctor.

The infographic below provides a recap of the early melanoma signs and symptoms.

early melanoma symptoms and signs


Can Early Melanoma Be Cured?

‘Melanoma in situ’ as it is referred to, has a five-year survival rate of 99-100% and is therefore said to be curable. This is the earliest stage of melanoma in which there has been no local or distant spread of the cancer.

How to Recognize a Suspicious Change on Your Skin?

It can be difficult to evaluate whether a change on your skin is suspicious or not, but as a first step getting better at noticing if your skin changes or not is helpful. Then you can let your doctor decide if the change to your skin or in a mole is a concern.

Checking Your Skin for Changes

Checking your skin for any change is something that should be done regularly. It’s important when you examine your skin that you check your entire body from top to toe.

Also, read our guide on How to do a skin self-exam.

Additionally, you can ask your doctor, whether using photos to better keep track of changes in individual lesions and on your skin as a whole is recommended for you and whether an app, such as the Miiskin mole mapping app, could be helpful in the process.

Above all it’s important that any suspicious change on your skin should not be left unexamined by a doctor. It is always best to get an in-person doctor’s examination of your skin concern.

Read more about the Miiskin app.

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