To get acquainted with melanoma and all of its manifestations, read through our complete overview below. Make sure you are aware of the signs of melanoma so you can stay on top of signs and symptoms so you know when it’s time to see a doctor.
What is melanoma and what causes it?
Melanoma is cancer that begins in melanocyte cells found in the innermost layer of the epidermis (the top layer of our skin). It occurs when those cells behave abnormally, growing excessively and taking over surrounding tissues. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will form a new growth.
Melanoma is considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it typically will spread to other areas of the body, including organs if left untreated. Melanoma signs can occur anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to the sun, like inside the mouth, under the nails or on the palms of the hands. Men are more likely to get melanomas on their back while women are more likely to develop them on their legs.
Melanoma signs you should look out for?
Moles are natural, and, usually, perfectly ordinary features of our bodies. Most adults will have anywhere from 10 to 40 moles on their bodies by the time they reach adulthood. The key is knowing when a mole is safe and when a mole could mean skin cancer.
While melanoma can develop from a pre-existing mole, it usually will develop from a new mole or growth on the body. That’s why it’s important to conduct regular skin checks, be aware of melanoma signs and take inventory of what’s normal for your body. This way you can identify any new growths or changes should they occur.
When examining your body, pay attention to the shape and texture of the mole or spot.
Melanoma will usually show up as:
- a mole with indistinct, uneven and blurry borders
- a mole that is asymmetrical and strangely shaped
- a mole with multiple colors
- a mole that is bigger than ¼ inch (about 6 mm) across
- a mole that develops a crust, scab or starts to bleed
- a mole that feels itchy or tender
- a mole that gets bigger or swells
- a mole that feels firm or raised in the center
What is a normal mole?
A normal mole will have neat edges, a smooth or dome-like shape, be around ¼ inch (6 mm) in diameter and will stay the same shape, size or color over time.
Sometimes a mole will exhibit some of the warning signs of melanoma such as blurry edges or a diameter larger than 6 mm but it will be benign. This is called a dysplastic nevus or an irregular mole. People with multiple dysplastic nevi are often at greater risk for skin cancer, even if one particular mole is non-cancerous. That’s why it’s always a good idea to get any suspicious moles or marks checked out to be safe.
The advanced stage signs of melanoma
While melanoma signs typically begins as a mole or new growth, if it has advanced to the lymph nodes, organs or other areas of the body, the symptoms can manifest in more physical ways.
Advanced stage signs of melanoma include:
- hard or swollen lymph nodes (these are located throughout the body but large groupings are around the neck, armpits and groin regions)
- hard lumps in your ski
- shortness of breath, chest pain, noisy breathing or a cough that won’t go away
- pain in your liver (located on the right side of your stomach)
- achy bones
- a headache that won’t go away
- bowel issues and constipation
- chronic fatigue
If you notice any of the above signs, contact your doctor immediately. While they may be signs of another illness, it’s always important to get them checked out.
Other signs of melanoma
In the other instances when melanoma doesn’t develop from a mole, it may show up in places you would never think to look or in forms you would never expect. Familiarize yourself with these rarer forms of the disease so you can spot the warning signs.
Narrow dark streaks under the nails
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.
A dark spot on the iris or vision problems
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 lights or floating specks.
Sores that won’t heal in hidden areas
Mucosal melanoma signs can appear as sores that won’t heal in your mouth or nasal passages, or in other areas of the body that produce mucus such as the vagina and anus. If you notice any signs of sores in these areas that won’t heal and cannot be explained by other causes, see your doctor and have them checked out.
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
Check your skin for signs with the ABCDE method
So you know what to pay attention to during your skin checks, the American Academy of Dermatology created the ABCDE method. This tool highlights all of the major warning signs of melanoma. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately to get your mole or growth checked out.
The ABCDE checklist:
Dermatologists identify melanoma symptoms using the ABCDE method. This method shows you which signs to look out for when examining suspicious moles, spots or growths on your skin.
- Asymmetrical – Melanomas are distinctly asymmetrical
- Border – melanomas have uneven borders
- Colours – melanomas will contain at least two distinct colours
- Diameter – melanomas are bigger than ¼ inch across
- Enlargement – melanomas grow in size over time
The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
Read more: ABCDE Melanoma self check
SkinVision builds upon the ABCDE method
SkinVision uses machine-learning technology in order to spot moles that could be at risk for melanoma, based on signs that come from the ABCDE-method. The app was designed to be an added layer of security when examining suspicious moles, on top of your manual efforts. By looking at the dimensions of the skin lesions and surrounding skin tissue, SkinVision identifies which growth patterns are irregular and typically signs of melanoma. It gives you a risk rating that helps you identify moles to track over time for changes.
After you perform a skin check looking for the ABCDE warning signs, take a picture of any suspicious moles with the SkinVision app and get a better idea of their risk. The app can also connect you with a doctor to examine any moles that are worrisome.
Download SkinVision and make it a part of your skin cancer prevention routine.
Always check with your doctor
You know the drill: if you are suspicious about any spots, moles or abnormalities on your body, don’t hesitate and get them checked out by your doctor or dermatologist immediately. Because the earlier you catch melanoma signs, the greater your chances of survival, and a true diagnosis can only come from a medical professional.