Melanoma begins in the melanocyte cells (the cells that produce pigment) in our skin. It often starts as a mole, and, if left unchecked, can spread throughout the body and become life-threatening. While it is the deadliest form of skin cancer, it is highly treatable if detected at early stages when it’s most treatable. For this reason, knowing the warning signs is important. Read on for the three most common early symptoms of melanoma.
Please keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list of symptoms. Melanoma can take many different forms. A dermatologist is the one who can give an actual diagnosis.
First symptoms of melanoma: New or changing moles
Melanoma usually appears on the skin as a new spot or growth or a change in an existing mole.
A normal mole is usually smaller than a pencil eraser, has smooth and symmetrical borders, an even color, and stays about the same over time.
While the vast majority of moles are not cancerous, new moles should always be something to keep an eye on. The faster they appear and evolve, the greater the reason to be concerned. Take note of all your moles and make sure you conduct monthly skin self-exams to track any unusual changes.
To help you with this endeavor, dermatologists have created the ABCDE melanoma self check method.
This helpful acronym names all the symptoms that could indicate the occurrence of melanoma. Here’s a quick guide:
- Asymmetrical – melanomas are distinctly asymmetrical
- Border – melanomas have uneven borders
- Colors – melanomas will contain at least two distinct colors
- Diameter – melanomas are bigger than ¼ inch (0.64 cm) in size
- Enlargement – melanomas grow in size over time
Be sure to contact your doctor if you notice anything that looks suspicious.
First symptoms of melanoma: A change in texture
Catching suspicious moles goes beyond just appearance. How a mole or other spot feels is often just as important an indicator of risk.
Think twice if a mole or other skin spot:
- is itchy or painful
- bleeds, scabs or becomes crusty
- becomes inflamed
- becomes thicker, firm or raised in the center
The above could be signs that the mole is cancerous and you should have it checked immediately.
The hidden-in-plain-sight symptoms of melanoma
There are rarer forms of melanoma that don’t appear on the skin as a mole. These more insidious forms of melanoma often occur in locations that we don’t expect or they might have an appearance that we think of as harmless. The following symptoms are more difficult to spot, but it is important that you can identify them if they occur.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma will often form under the nails or toenails as a narrow, dark streak. It usually develops on the thumb or the big toe, but it can occur on any nail. This is more common in people with dark skin but can occur in all skin types. It can also sometimes appear on the palms or soles of the feet as a dark spot or patch.
- Ocular melanoma is a very rare form of melanoma that presents itself as a dark spot on the iris, a change in the shape of the pupil, poor or blurry vision or as the appearance of flashing light or floating specks.
- Mucosal melanoma can appear as sores that won’t heal in your mouth or nasal passages, or in other areas of the body that produce mucous such as the vagina and anus. If you notice any sores in these areas that won’t heal and cannot be explained by other causes, ask your doctor to have a look at them.
In some cases, early symptoms of melanoma can also appear as:
- a slow developing plaque of skin that resembles a scar
- a new patch or spot on your skin that looks like an age spot
Download SkinVision and check your skin for (early) symptoms of melanoma before they have a chance to spread.