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Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanomas are not usually painful. The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Melanomas can also appear as a new, black, or abnormal mole. It is important to remember that most people have moles and almost all moles are benign. Report any changes to your doctor.

Changes in Existing Moles

Spotting a mole that seems out of the ordinary may be the first warning sign of melanoma. The ABCDE rule highlights suspicious mole characteristics:

A—Asymmetry

When you look at a normal mole, it is even in shape all the way around. An asymmetrical mole has 2 halves that do not look the same. For example, one side is round and the other is not.

Asymmetrical Mole
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B—Border

The mole has a ragged, uneven edge all the way around.

Irregular Border
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C—Color

In most cases, moles are brown and evenly colored throughout. However, some moles are tan and black. Changes in the color of the mole may be indicated by different shades of brown, tan, or black. Sometimes, you may notice white, gray, pink, or red mixed. The important point is the change and unevenness of the coloring.

Color Variation
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D—Diameter

Normally, moles are less than ¼ inch (6 8 millimeters) in size. Be aware of moles that are larger than an eraser on a pencil. Even though melanoma can occur in small moles, they usually grow larger.

E—Evolving

Moles change in color, shape, or size. As melanoma advances, moles become hard or lumpy.

Other Skin Changes

Not all melanomas follow the ABCDE rule. Other signs to be aware of include:

  • Sores on your skin that do not heal
  • Moles that ooze, bleed, or change in texture
  • New discomfort, itching, redness, or swelling
  • Coloring of a mole that extends beyond the border and into the skin
  • A new mole appears near another mole that looks either normal or abnormal

Advanced Symptoms

As melanoma spreads, it can cause problems anywhere in the body. Symptoms depend on where the cancer has spread. Examples of advanced melanoma symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Pain or a sensation of a mass
  • Decreased appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Abdominal or back pain caused by pressure on nearby nerves
  • Swelling in the legs, which may be caused by an obstruction in the veins or lymphatic system
  • Bone pain

Revision Information

  • General information about melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq. Updated July 22, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2016.

  • Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2016.

  • Melanoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/cancers-of-the-skin/melanoma. Updated July 2015. Accessed October 18, 2016.

  • Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003120-pdf.pdf. Accessed October 18, 2016.