Melanoma: Signs and symptoms
What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?
Melanoma is a skin cancer that can show up on the skin in many ways. It can look like a:
Spot that looks like a new mole, freckle, or age spot, but it looks different from the others on your skin
Spot that has a jagged border, more than one color, and is growing
Dome-shaped growth that feels firm and may look like a sore, which may bleed
Dark-brown or black vertical line beneath a fingernail or toenail
Band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail
Slowly growing patch of thick skin that looks like a scar
This early melanoma could be mistaken for a mole, so it’s important to look carefully at the spots on your skin.
The ABCDEs of melanoma
To help people find a possible melanoma on their skin, dermatologists created the ABCDEs of melanoma:
|A is for Asymmetry |
One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
|B is for Border |
The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
|C is for Color |
The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
|D is for Diameter |
While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
|E is for Evolving |
The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
If you find a spot on your skin that has any of the ABCDEs of melanoma, see a board-certified dermatologist for a skin exam.
The following pictures can help you see how the ABCDEs of melanoma can appear on the skin.
Pictures of melanoma
How many of the ABCDEs can you find in the following pictures of melanoma?
Melanoma that looks like an odd-shaped mole
Would you mistake these melanomas for odd-shaped moles?
Both show the A (asymmetrical shape) and B (border uneven) of melanoma. The melanoma on the right shows the C (color varies).
Melanoma that looks like a sore
Melanoma often contains shades of brown, black, or tan, but some can be red or pink, such as the one shown here.
Still you can see some of the ABCDEs here. The spot shows the A (asymmetrical shape) and B (uneven border).
Melanoma that looks like a firm, raised growth
Melanoma can spread out as it grows, but this one is growing up and looks like a firm, raised growth.
Did you notice the A (asymmetrical shape) and B (uneven border)?
Melanoma that looks like an age spot
This melanoma is spreading out as it grows.
Did you notice the A (asymmetrical shape), B (uneven border), C (color varies), and D (diameter is bigger than a pencil eraser)?
Melanomas that could be mistaken for a common skin problem
Melanoma that looks like a bruise
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, including the bottom of the foot, where it can look like a bruise as shown here.
Melanoma that looks like a cyst
This reddish nodule looks a lot like a cyst, but testing proved that it was a melanoma.
In people of African descent, melanoma tends to develop on the palm, bottom of the foot, or under or around a nail.
Did you spot the asymmetry, uneven border, varied color, and diameter larger than that of a pencil eraser?
Dark line beneath a nail
Melanoma can develop under a fingernail or toenail, looking like a brown line as shown here.
While this line is thin, some are much thicker. The lines can also be much darker.
Does melanoma hurt?
You can have melanoma without feeling any pain or discomfort. For many people, the only sign of this skin cancer is a spot that has some of the ABCDEs of melanoma or a line beneath a nail.
Sometimes, melanoma causes discomfort. It can:
How do people find signs of melanoma on their own skin?
Performing a skin self-exam as often as recommended by your dermatologist is the best way. While examining your skin, you want to look for the following:
Mole (or other spot on your skin) that is changing in any way
Spot that looks different from the rest of the spots on your skin
Growth or spot on your skin that itches, bleeds, or is painful
Band of color beneath or around a nail
Sore that doesn’t heal or heals and returns
The ABCDEs of melanoma can help you find changes to a mole, freckle, or other spot on your skin.
Tools that can help you find melanoma on your skin
To help you find melanoma early, the American Academy of Dermatology developed the following:
How to do a skin self-exam
This short video shows you how you can examine your skin for signs of skin cancer.
Body mole map
Use this diagram to draw the moles and other spots on your skin so that you can spot a change early.
Quiz: Could you spot a melanoma on your child’s skin?
Melanoma can look different on a child’s skin. Taking this short quiz can help you hone your skills at finding childhood melanoma.
Images 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,10: Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.
Image 2: Developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Image 9: Used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;55:741-60.)
Barnhill RL, Mihm MC, et al. “Malignant melanoma.” In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 140-167.
Gloster HM Jr, Neal K. “Skin cancer in skin of color.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;55:741-60.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. “NCCN guidelines for patients: Melanoma.” 2018. Last accessed February 12, 2019.