Melanoma is diagnosed through a staging system with different outcomes and treatments advised for each stage. Melanoma stages range from one to four, with four being the most advanced stage, where it has spread to distant lymph nodes or other organs. In stages one and two, when early signs of melanoma are present, melanoma is only present in the skin and hasn’t spread deeper throughout the body yet. In stages three and four, melanoma has spread or metastasized to other areas.
Symptoms of early signs of melanoma
The symptoms for stage one and two melanoma usually begin with the development of a typical mole or skin lesion. While melanoma usually appears on the skin as a new spot or growth or a change in an already existing mole, in some cases, it can also occur on otherwise normal-looking skin spots.
Understanding which moles or lesions are cause for concern is key to stay on top of your skin health. There are several signs that a mole or growth is becoming cancerous. A potentially cancerous mole will typically display these early signs of melanoma:
- getting bigger or swelling
- strangely shaped (ie. not round)
- irregular borders
- many different colors or shades
- bigger than the size of a pencil eraser in diameter
- appeared recently (when you are an adult)
- changing surface texture
- looks different than other moles or spots around it
- develops a crust or a scab
- sometimes bleeds
- is itchy
- feels tender
In rarer forms of melanoma, the symptoms can look a little different.
Sometimes melanoma will also occur in more hidden places, such as:
- a dark streak under a toe or fingernail, or on the palms or soles of the feet
- an area of dark skin around a toenail or fingernail
- a slow-developing plaque of skin that resembles a scar
- a new patch or spot on your skin that looks like an age spot
- a dark spot on the iris or vision problems
- a sore that won’t heal in the mouth, nasal passage or the genital area
For more information on how melanoma looks like, check our photo library.