Melanoma symptoms, risk factors, and FAQs

The symptoms of melanoma

The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin, or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. You might think the spot is just a mole, so you can use the ABCDE rule to look for the signs of melanoma:

  • A – Asymmetry. One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B – Border. The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C – Color. The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D – Diameter. The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across, although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E – Evolving. The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Some melanomas don’t fit these rules. It’s important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.

Other melanoma warning signs

  • A sore that doesn’t heal.
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin.
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole.
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
  • Change in the surface of a mole, like scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a lump or bump.
  • The ugly duckling sign—a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin, even though it may still be flesh-colored.

Questions and answers about melanoma (FAQs)

How serious is melanoma and skin cancer?

Very. If left untreated, it can spread and cause death. However, treatment is typically very effective and can cure skin cancer.

What does melanoma look like at the beginning?

The first sign of melanoma is usually a change in the shape, look, color or feel of an existing mole.

How long does it take for melanoma to spread?

Not long. It can spread quickly—in as little as six weeks, it can spread and become life-threatening.

Can skin cancer go away on its own?

No, skin cancer—like all forms of cancer—requires proper treatment.