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Melanoma Explained

What does melanoma look like? Melanoma images to help spot skin cancer early.

Because early detection increases your chances of successful treatment.
MoleMap Team
March 27, 2024
18 minutes

Melanoma skin cancer can take many forms (in terms of size, shape, colour) and grow rapidly. Seeing melanoma images can assist you to identify the early stages of this type of skin cancer. In this blog post you’ll see dif­fer­ent types of melanoma signs and symptoms, from ear­ly stage to advanced. You’ll also see what melanoma looks like on dif­fer­ent parts of the body, from head to toe.

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What does melanoma look like?

There are several different types of melanoma, including nodular melanoma, superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, acral lentig­i­nous melanoma and ​ame­lan­ot­ic or ​‘pink’ melanoma. Each form of skin cancer may develop differently. Looking at images of melanoma can provide a better understanding of the warning signs to look for during regular skin checks.

Images of different looking melanomas.
The most obvi­ous melanoma warn­ing signs are changes to existing moles or spots. They may alter in size, shape, colour, or in how they feel.

Usually, the most obvi­ous melanoma warn­ing signs are changes to existing moles or spots. They may alter in size, shape, colour, or in how they feel. For example, they may feel slightly raised. Melanoma can also appear as a new mole (more com­mon­ly in peo­ple aged 50 years or more).

Keep scrolling to melanoma skin cancer images for the five main types. However, remem­ber that melanoma is only one form of skin can­cer (albeit the most dan­ger­ous). Take a look at this handy guide to find out more about skin cancer

Nodu­lar melanoma images

Nodular melanoma is one of the most dan­ger­ous forms of melanoma. It accounts for about 15-20% of melanoma in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

The most wor­ry­ing thing about nodular melanoma is that it can grow fast: it is malig­nant from the time of appear­ance, which is why regular skin checks are so important.

Images of nodular melanoma.
As these melanoma pictures show, nodular melanoma is usu­al­ly raised, often symmetrical, firm to the touch and grows or changes with­in a few months.

What does nodu­lar melanoma look like?

Nodular melanoma is not necessarily dark or coloured. As the nodular melanoma images above show, the key fea­tures are that it’s raised, often sym­met­ri­cal, firm to touch and, most impor­tant­ly, changing or ​growing progressively.

In the ear­ly stages, you might not notice vis­i­ble signs of change — per­haps the mole is itchy or just feels fun­ny. This type of melanoma can affect any­one. Typically, it’s more common in men over the age of 50 and those with fair skin.

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Super­fi­cial spread­ing melanoma images

Superficial spreading melanoma is the most com­mon form of melanoma, account­ing for around 70% of all cas­es. It tends to grow slow­ly and horizontally across the top lay­er of skin before mov­ing to the deeper layers. It usu­al­ly occurs on the back, chest and legs — areas that are all like­ly to get intense, periodic UV expo­sure from the sun. How­ev­er, it can also appear in parts of the body that see lit­tle sun.

While it can affect peo­ple of all ages, this type of melanoma occurs most often in peo­ple in their 40s and 50s. Oth­er risk fac­tors include hav­ing fair skin, a lot of moles, a fam­i­ly or per­son­al his­to­ry of skin can­cer, sunburn during childhood/adolescence, and hav­ing reg­u­lar expo­sure to the sun or tan­ning beds.

Images of super­fi­cial spread­ing melanoma.
As you can see in these melanoma skin cancer images, super­fi­cial spread­ing melanoma can be irreg­u­lar in shape, vari­able in colour and sim­i­lar to a freck­le. It often appears on the legs, tor­so and upper back.

How do I detect superficial spreading melanoma?

Superficial spreading melanoma some­times looks like a freck­le, which can make it hard to identify, espe­cial­ly in the first stages. When check­ing your skin, look for these ear­ly signs:

  • Shape: Look for an irreg­u­lar shape and bor­ders. Superficial spreading melanoma can be raised or flat and can look like a freck­le that is grow­ing at its edges.
  • Colour: It may be brown, tan, black, red, blue and even white but usually has a com­bi­na­tion of these colours.
  • Loca­tion: It usu­al­ly appears on the tor­sos of men, the legs of women and the upper backs of both sex­es — even in places that do not see the sun. It can appear in an exist­ing mole or a new mole.
  • Changes: The mole or spot tends to change slowly, over the course of sev­er­al years. It can some­times feel itchy.

You can also use the ​ABCDEFG guidelines to help you iden­ti­fy the ear­ly signs of melanoma skin can­cer. Early diagnosis is the key in successfully treating superficial spreading melanoma. So, if you notice any unusu­al spots on your skin, book a professional skin check straight away.

Ame­lan­ot­ic or ​‘pink’ melanoma pictures

Just to make checking your skin even more dif­fi­cult, there is a relatively uncommon type of superficial spreading melanoma that has no colour at all. Known as ​‘ame­lan­ot­ic’ or ​‘pink’ melanomas, these unusu­al spots have no melanin—that’s the dark pig­ment that gives most moles and melanomas their colour.

Ame­lan­ot­ic melanoma is no more dan­ger­ous than any oth­er form of melanoma, yet its mor­tal­i­ty rates tend to be high­er than oth­er types of melanoma. This is because it often goes unde­tect­ed for longer, giving it more time to spread.

Images of amelanotic melanoma.
Ame­lan­ot­ic melanomas can be pink, red, pur­ple, ‘normal’ skin colour, or even clear and colourless. They may even look just like a patch of abnor­mal skin. This makes them very easy to miss when self-check­ing your skin.

Ame­lan­ot­ic melanoma — what to look for

Ame­lan­ot­ic melanomas can be pink, red, pur­ple, ‘normal’ skin colour, or even clear and colourless. They may even look just like a patch of abnor­mal skin. This makes them very easy to miss when self-check­ing your skin. However, there are other melanoma warn­ing signs to look for. This includes a mole or spot that’s asymmetrical or has an irregular border.  If a spot or mole appears sud­den­ly or changes shape drastically, this may also be a sign of melanoma.

Some­times, ame­lan­ot­ic melanomas resem­ble a tiny scar or acne that is healing. The biggest thing to look for is the ​‘E’ for ​‘evo­lu­tion’ in the ABCDEFG guide — if you notice any changes in a mole or spot (no mat­ter what the colour), seek a clin­i­cal diag­no­sis as soon as possible.

Lenti­go maligna melanoma images

Lentigo maligna melanoma is the least com­mon type of melanoma. It is a type of invasive skin can­cer that accounts for around 5-15% of melanomas.

Lentigo maligna is a precancerous disease. It grows slow­ly and often stays on the out­er sur­face of the skin. Although, if it starts grow­ing into the sec­ond lay­er of the skin, it becomes the more malig­nant form, called ‘lentigo maligna melanoma’.

Image of a lentigo maligna melanoma.
As this malignant melanoma image shows, lentigo maligna looks like a flat or slight­ly raised brown patch, sim­i­lar to a freck­le or sun spot.

What does lenti­go maligna melanoma look like?

Both forms (precancerous and malignant) of lentigo maligna look like a flat or slight­ly raised brown patch, sim­i­lar to a freck­le or sun spot. They have a smooth surface and an irreg­u­lar shape. While they are usu­al­ly a shade of brown, they can also be pink, red or white.

They are usu­al­ly larg­er than other types of skin cancer— often being at least six millimetres wide but can grow to several centimetres. This form of melanoma most often appears on the neck or face, espe­cial­ly on the nose and cheeks.

Keep an eye out for a mole with increased thick­ness, multiple colours (particularly black and blue), bleeding, itching or stinging. If you have any of these symp­toms, get the mole or spot checked imme­di­ate­ly.

Acral lentig­i­nous melanoma pictures

Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) is a type of skin cancer that most com­mon­ly occurs on the palms of the hand or the soles of the feet. It can appear as a new spot or can devel­op with­in an exist­ing mole.

Images of acral lentig­i­nous melanomas in the hands, feet and nails
As these melanoma skin cancer images show, acral lentig­i­nous melanomas are usu­al­ly brown or black, and occur on the palms of the hand, the soles of the feet and under fin­ger­nails or toe­nails.

What does acral lentiginous melanoma look like?

Often, acral lentiginous melanoma starts as a flat, slowly-growing patch of dis­coloured skin. Although it can also be reddish, orange or ame­lan­ot­ic in colour.

This type of melanoma is usu­al­ly much dark­er than the surrounding skin (typically brown or black) and tends to have a sharp bor­der between the dark skin and the lighter skin around it. This con­trast in colour is one of the most notice­able symp­toms of this type of melanoma.

Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most com­mon type of melanoma in peo­ple with dark­er skin and those of Asian descent. Although all skin types can develop this form of skin cancer. It may be hard to detect in the first stages, when the patch of dark skin is small and looks like a stain or bruise. As with all types of melanoma, early diagnosis and treat­ment are essen­tial to catch this rare form of melanoma before it spreads further.

Infographic of the ABCDEFG rules for checking your skin.
It’s important to know the ABCDE­FG rules when check­ing for ear­ly signs of melanoma.

Pictures of melanoma on dif­fer­ent body parts

Now that you know what dif­fer­ent types of melanomas look like, let’s look at pictures of melanoma skin cancer on dif­fer­ent parts of the body.

Melanoma develops in different areas of the body in men vs women. In men, melanoma is most often detect­ed on the back and chest, and in women, it’s most often found on the legs. But remem­ber that melanoma can appear any­where on the body, even where you least expect it — from your scalp to your tor­so to the soles of your feet (see 7 places you wouldn’t expect to find skin can­cer).

Images of melanoma on the leg.
These melanomas were all detect­ed on dif­fer­ent parts of the leg. In women, the legs are the most com­mon site of melanoma.

Images of melanoma on the face.
A range of images of melanoma found on the face. Oth­er types of skin can­cer such as basal cell car­ci­no­mas and squa­mous cell car­ci­no­mas are also com­mon­ly found on the face.

Images of melanoma on the arm.
These melanomas were all detect­ed on dif­fer­ent parts of the arm — arms tend to be exposed to the sun more than oth­er parts of the body.

Images of melanoma on the nose.
As these pic­tures show, melanoma is fair­ly com­mon on the nose — a good rea­son to wear a hat when you’re out in the sun!

Images of melanoma on the back.
All of these melanomas were detect­ed on the back. In men, melanoma is more like­ly to affect the chest and back.

What does skin cancer on the scalp look like?

The appear­ance of skin can­cer on the scalp will actu­al­ly vary greatly depend­ing on the type of skin cancer it is.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) initially appears as a flat or raised spot that is usu­al­ly pink in colour. These spots can bleed quite eas­i­ly and may also be shiny, rough or crusty. They can also look like a slight­ly dis­coloured patch of skin. BCC is he most com­mon form of skin can­cer but it is also the slow­est to spread. If you see some­thing on your scalp that looks like one of the signs described above, book in for a skin check immediately.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is very common on the scalp. It appears as a rough or scaly patch on the scalp. It can also become raised, firm, red or even crusty over time. 

Melanoma typically appears as a brown or black raised lump with dark, irreg­u­lar colours and bor­ders. But keep in mind that it can also look like a pink­ish raised lump or mole that grows quickly in size. Scalp melanomas are very difficult to detect as they can be easily hidden by hair. This often leads to a delay in diagnosis, making them more lethal and aggressive than skin cancers elsewhere on the body.

A melanographer examines the patient’s scalp during a skin check at a MoleMap clinic.
Scalp melanomas are typically more lethal and aggressive than others, likely because they are easily hidden by hair and more difficult to detect and diagnose.

What does skin cancer on the lip look like?

SCC is the most com­mon form of skin cancer to appear on your lips and will usu­al­ly take the form of a scaly red patch that bleeds quite eas­i­ly. Some­times SCC can even appear as a painful ulcer or oth­er non-heal­ing sore. This form of skin can­cer is more like­ly to appear on your bot­tom lip as opposed to the top.

BCC skin cancers are less like­ly to appear on your lips than oth­er forms, but that doesn’t mean it’s impos­si­ble. If a BCC does appear, it’s typ­i­cal­ly more like­ly to do so on your upper lip. Pay atten­tion to any pink spots that devel­op that are ten­der to the touch and bleed quite easily.

Melanomas can appear on your lip and are usu­al­ly darker in colour. Never ignore a mole that changes in colour. It can help ensure early diagnosis.

Image of melanoma on the lip.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer to appear on the lips, but basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and melanoma can also develop in this area too.

What does skin cancer on the feet look like?

The feet are typically the last place that people think to look when checking for skin cancer.

BCCs are the most com­mon type of skin cancer to appear in this area and can look like a mole, a scar or even an unusual rough spot. These areas tend to bleed eas­i­ly and are prone to becom­ing uncom­fort­able when you’re sweaty.

In the early stages, SCCs usu­al­ly appear on the feet as a red or scaly plaque which is com­mon­ly referred to as Bowen’s Disease. This indicates that the skin can­cer has not had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op into a full-blown SCC yet so there is still time to act.

Melanomas on the feet are generally rare, but this means that they are often sad­ly over­looked. Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most com­mon form of melanoma to appear on your feet and usu­al­ly involves the devel­op­ment of a light-coloured patch of skin. It can be very hard to see at first which is why having a trained professional check your feet for skin cancer is so vital.

Image of melanoma on the foot.
When checking for skin cancer on the foot, be sure to check between the toes, under the soles and under the toenails.

Iden­ti­fying the ear­ly signs of melanoma

Melanoma is the most seri­ous form of skin can­cer. It can spread and become life-threatening very quick­ly. But the good news is that if it’s found ear­ly, it’s almost always treat­able and beat­able. Knowing what a cancerous mole looks like and what to watch out for when check­ing your skin is essential.

Keep in mind that skin or mole changes aren’t often accom­pa­nied by pain, so early melanoma warn­ing signs can go unno­ticed. The best way to spot cancer early is to be vigilant about check­ing your skin reg­u­lar­ly.

There are three sim­ple guidelines to assist you when self-checking your skin. The ABCDEFG rule, the ​‘ugly duck­ling’ method, and the Scan Your Skin rule. These provide a practical and handy guide when check­ing for ear­ly symptoms of melanoma.

A melanographer examines a patient’s hand during a skin check appointment at MoleMap.
Regular skin checks are vital for monitoring any changes in your skin or early signs of skin cancer.

Melanoma can be dif­fi­cult to spot in the ear­ly stages (espe­cial­ly to the untrained eye). A malig­nant melanoma can some­times look very sim­i­lar to a nor­mal mole or spot.

MoleMap uses state-of-the-art imag­ing technology that can view both the exterior and dermoscopic (under the skin) struc­ture of any mole. This, teamed with a dermatologist diagnosis, gives you the reassurance that any signs of melanoma or oth­er skin cancers will be detect­ed early.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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