How to check for melanoma

Cancer Council NSW
Woman checking her skin for cancer.

Is that mole or freckle on your skin just a harmless spot or something sinister? Checking for signs of melanoma is important as it is a serious cancer that can spread to other parts of the body. The earlier melanoma is found, the better the chances of successful treatment.

Melanoma symptoms

Melanoma can vary in the way it looks. If you have lots of moles, a melanoma usually stands out and looks different from other moles. The first sign is often a new spot or change in an existing mole, such as:

  • size – the spot may appear or begin to grow larger
  • colour – the spot may become blotchy with different depths and shades of colour (often brown or black, but can also be red, white, light grey, pink or the colour of your skin)
  • shape or border – the spot may increase in height, become scaly, have an irregular shape (scalloped or notched) or lack symmetry (the halves look different)
  • itching or bleeding – the spot may itch or bleed very easily
  • elevation – the spot may start as a raised nodule or develop a raised area, which is often reddish or reddish brown.

ABCDEs of melanoma

The ABCDE checklist is a helpful way to monitor your skin and check for early signs of melanoma. However, you should have your skin checked regularly by a doctor.

AsymmetryAre the halves of each spot different?Diagram of melanoma assymetry
BorderAre the edges uneven, scalloped or notched?Diagram of melanoma border
ColourAre there differing shades and colour patches?Diagram of melanoma colour
DiameterIs the spot greater than 6 mm across, or is it smaller than 6 mm but growing larger?Diagram of melanoma diameter
EvolvingHas the spot changed over time (size, shape, surface, colour, bleeding, itching)?Diagram of melanoma evolving

Some types of melanoma, such as nodular and desmoplastic melanomas, don’t fit the ABCDE guidelines. If this is the case for you, a doctor may also assess whether a spot is raised, firm or growing.

Check your skin regularly

New moles mostly appear during childhood and through to the 30s and 40s, as well as during pregnancy. However, adults of any age can have new or changing spots. It is important to get to know your skin and check it regularly. In a room with good light, fully undress and use a full-length mirror to look closely at your:

  • head, scalp, neck and ears
  • torso on the ront, sides and back
  • arms, hands, fingers and fingernails
  • legs, toes, toenails and soles of the feet.

For areas that are hard to see, use a handheld mirror or ask someone to help.

Look for spots that are new, different from other spots, or raised, firm and growing. Even if your doctor has said a spot is benign in the past, check for any changes in shape, size or colour. If you notice a new or changing spot, ask your doctor to examine it.

Learn more about how to check your skin or visit our Melanoma section

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