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Melanoma Explained

The melanoma symptoms to watch for — and tips to help spot them

Detecting early melanoma symptoms increases your chance of a successful outcome.
March 19, 2024
10 minutes

Australia and New Zealand have the highest melanoma rates in the world. No one wants to find skin cancer on their body. Yet, discovering melanoma skin cancer symptoms early increases the likelihood of a cure. 

Getting to know your skin and what’s ‘normal’ for you can help you to spot changes sooner. Here are a few helpful tips and guidelines to help you check for melanoma signs and symptoms.

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ABCDEFG guide for spotting melanoma symptoms

The ABCDE guide to the signs and symptoms of malignant melanoma was created by dermatologists in the 1980s. Co-creator of the guide, dermatologist Dr Darrell Rigel, explains: “We were trying to think of a way of describing what early melanoma looks like. Because melanoma is the clear-cut case of a cancer where early detection is key.” 

Since its introduction, the guidelines have expanded to include 7 key warning signs of melanoma. When check­ing your skin, or the skin of your loved ones, look out for the following melanoma cancer symptoms:

A is for asymmetry

Typically, moles are roughly symmetrical. Precancerous or cancerous moles, on the other hand, are more asymmetrical in distribution of colour and pattern. They may be lop-sided, have an unusual shape, or a blurred border.

Images of asymmetrical moles that indicate melanoma.
Precancerous or cancerous moles can be asymmetrical in distribution of colour and pattern. They may be lop-sided, have an unusual shape, or a blurred border.

B is for border

In nor­mal moles, the bor­ders are round and even. If you notice that the edges are notched, scal­loped or blurred — get a pro­fes­sion­al skin check straight away. You may also notice that the pigment (the colour of the mole) has spread out beyond the borders of the mole. 

Images of moles with blurred borders that indicate melanoma.
Precancerous or cancerous moles may present notched, scalloped or blurred edges.

C is for colour or changing

Moles can vary in colour – that’s quite nor­mal. Most often though, the colour is even. (i.e. one shade of brown). If you notice a mole has different shades of colour (this can include black, brown, tan - even pink, red or blue), it’s best to have it checked out.

Image of moles with different colours which can be a sign of melanoma.
If you notice a mole has different shades of colour (this can include black, brown, tan - even pink, red or blue), it’s best to have it checked out.

D is for diameter

When it comes to moles and oth­er skin lesions, size counts – espe­cial­ly when an existing mole increases in size. However, don’t wait for an unusual or new mole to increase in size. Get it checked out straight away.

Images of moles that have increased in size which can be a symptom of melanoma.
When it comes to moles and oth­er skin lesions, size counts – espe­cial­ly when an existing mole increases in size.

E is for evolv­ing or elevated

A benign (non-cancerous) mole is typically stable. If a mole is changing it may be a sign of melanoma. If a mole evolves (changes) in size, shape, or colour it’s important to get it checked out.

Images of a mole evolving and changing which indicates melanoma.
If a mole evolves (changes) in size, shape, or colour it’s important to get it checked out as a benign mole is generally more stable.

F is for firm

Normal (benign) moles are usu­al­ly smooth and soft. If a mole feels firm, scaly or rough – or if you can feel a hard lump – it may be a cause for con­cern. A firm, raised lump that is pink, red, brown or black may be a nodular melanoma symptom. Another type of melanoma (albeit rare) that appears as a firm growing lump is desmoplastic melanoma.

Images showing different moles which are a symptom of nodular melanoma.
If a mole feels firm, scaly or rough – or if you can feel a hard lump – it may be a cause for con­cern.

G is for growing

Generally, benign moles or skin lesions don’t change. Or if they do, the change happens slowly over several years. In comparison, a nodular melanoma tends to grow quickly. Changes can be seen within days or weeks.

The Scan Your Skin rule

We know that early detection is the best defence against skin cancer. It’s important to regularly scan your skin and look for any spots that are:

  • Sore—look out for spots or moles that are sore, scaly, itchy, bleeding, tender) and don’t heal within 6 weeks.
  • Changing—be aware of spots that alter in size, shape, colour or texture.
  • Abnormal—if you notice a spit that looks or feels different, get it checked out.
  • New—any new spots of moles should be examined by a professional.

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The ‘ugly duckling’ mole method

Anoth­er use­ful way to spot melanoma is to use the ​‘ugly duckling’ method. Look for any mole or spot that stands out or looks dif­fer­ent from that of near­by moles. If you spot an ‘ugly duckling’ mole, we recommend you see your GP or seek a skin check or mole check from a MoleMap skin cancer detection clinic near you.

Which skin colour is most at risk of skin cancer?

Peo­ple with fair or very pale skin (particularly those who have a lot of moles and freck­les), are most at risk of skin can­cer. If you have olive or dark skin, your risk is reduced. But remem­ber, low risk doesn’t mean NO risk. Peo­ple with darker skin can still get melanoma. In fact, Bob Mar­ley died because of an untreat­ed type of melanoma (acral lentiginous melanoma) on his toenail!

What’s more, those with dark skin may be less vigilant about wear­ing sun­screen. They may not use sun safe pre­cau­tions as much as people with pale or freck­led skin. Over time, they may expose their skin to a lot more harm­ful sun dam­age.

Lady examining a mole in her own shoulder looking for any changes.
Wondering about the best way to examine your skin for changes? Take pho­tographs and com­pare them at a lat­er date so you can detect any­thing that has changed or grown.

How to self-check for warning signs of melanoma

Use the ABCDEFGs of melanoma symptoms, the Scan Your Skin Rule, or the ‘ugly duckling’ mole method to self-check your skin. Also, check out our down­loadable Melanoma Self-Check Guide.

Wondering about the best way to examine your skin for changes?  Take pho­tographs and com­pare them at a lat­er date so you can detect any­thing that has changed or grown. This is exact­ly what a MoleMap Full Body Mole Check does. It also includes unlimited free spot checks between your annual appointments. If you notice any changes in your skin, you can get them checked out fast for peace of mind. 

We know that it can be a bit scary finding a suspicious mole in case it turns out to be melanoma. Melanoma is fast-growing and, if left untreat­ed, it can spread to the lymph nodes. Hard or swollen lymph nodes may be a sign of melanoma stage 4 symptoms.

On a more pos­i­tive note, when the signs and symptoms of melanoma cancer are detected early treatment is almost always suc­cess­ful­. In most cas­es, skin cancer treatment involves surgical removal of the mole and some surrounding skin to ensure the removal of all the cancer cells. 

Other symptoms of melanoma besides moles

In advanced melanoma, the skin cancer has spread to other parts of the body.  In this case, you might notice melanoma symptoms other than moles. According to Cancer Research UK, other melanoma health symptoms may include:

  • unexplained pain
  • feeling very tired or unwell
  • unexplained weight loss
  • yellowing of eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • build up of fluid in your tummy (abdomen) 
  • tummy pain

One Australian is diagnosed with melanoma every 30 minutes. What’s more, 

95% of melanomas are caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun.

Practising sun safe­ty and getting regular skin checks is the best way to keep your skin healthy.

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