Often, a change in the shape, size, color or feel of an existing mole is the first sign of melanoma. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or look ugly.

Some people have certain abnormal-looking moles (called dysplastic nevi or atypical moles) that are more likely than normal moles to develop into melanoma.

Thinking of “ABCD” can help you remember what to watch for:

Asymmetry - The shape of one side does not match the other.

Border - The edges are ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular, or the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.

Color - The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue may be seen.

Diameter - There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).

Early stage melanomas can be found when a mole changes slightly. The formation of a new black area, newly formed fine scales, and itching in a mole are common symptoms of early melanoma.

In advanced melanoma, the texture might change or the mole may itch, ooze or bleed.

Melanomas do not usually cause pain. Often, melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early. If melanoma is not removed in the early stages, cancer cells may grow downward into the skin and can spread to other parts of the body, becoming difficult to control.

If a doctor suspects melanoma, he/she will perform a biopsy. This is the only way to make a definite diagnosis. This can be done two ways:

Excisional Biopsy - The doctor tries to remove all of the suspicious-looking growth. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Biopsy - If the growth is too large to remove entirely, the doctor takes a sample of the tissue. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Once the results from the test or procedure are returned you will be able to make thoughtful decisions. Please see Newly Diagnosed  for information on being patient active, treatment decisions, partnering with your healthcare team and finding support. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult. Please see Caregivers and/or Online Support for more information on how the Cancer Support Community can offer support.

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