Melanoma Symptoms: How to Spot Them and How to Treat Them

January 25, 2021
William Hanner D.O.

That spot on your skin… Is it normal/benign, or is it a sign that you have a skin cancer called melanoma?

Melanoma is one of the types of skin cancer, but it is the most aggressive. If it is left unaddressed, it can spread throughout the body. The good news, though, is that if you detect melanoma early, it can be successfully treated. So it is important to understand how to spot melanoma symptoms as soon as possible—and bring them to attention to your doctor.

Here is a closer look at what melanoma is, how to recognize it, and what to do if you suspect you have it.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that produce skin pigmentation become cancerous and begin growing out of control. 

How common is melanoma?

Around 200,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and it affects both men and women of every skin color.

How serious is melanoma?

Most skin cancers are one of two types—squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas—which are less likely to spread. 

But melanoma is different—it is highly aggressive and can spread quickly if not detected and treated early. Malignant melanoma can be deadly, which is why early detection is so essential.

What part of the body gets melanoma?

Melanoma can occur anywhere you have skin, on any part of your body. It is most likely to show up in areas of the body that get more sun exposure, such as the face, arms, legs, ears, neck, shoulders, and back. Less frequently, melanoma can also develop in other areas, including the bottoms of the feet, the palms of the hands, fingernail beds, mouth, eyes, and anus.

What does melanoma look like?

Melanoma most often appears as a dark mark/mole on your skin that looks odd, is new, or has recently changed. However, it does not always appear as a dark spot, it can be light in color or even pink in color. It usually looks different than a benign mole, and there are ways to recognize the difference between a normal skin mark and a cancerous growth.

Normal moles

Most people have at least some moles—skin marks—on their bodies. Normal moles are an even shade of brown, tan or black. They may be flat or raised, round or oval. They look symmetrical and are smaller than the size of a pencil eraser (about ¼ inch or less). They often appear during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. 

Most importantly, they typically stay the same over the years. It is not normal for a mole to change its shape, color or size. If you have a mole that suddenly appears later in life, or a mole that suddenly begins to change, that’s the time to see your doctor.

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

The most common signs that you may have a melanoma are: 

  • One of your existing moles has begun to change its shape, size, color or texture. 
  • A new mole or unusual-looking growth has appeared on your skin. 
  • One of your existing skin spots has a very different look from all the other spots, moles and freckles you have.

You can use the ABCDE rule to help you recognize melanoma symptoms. Look for and let your doctor know if you notice any of these warning signs:

  • Asymmetry: The skin mark is uneven in shape (one part does not match the other part). Think of the shape of one of the States.
  • Border: The edges of the mole or mark look irregular or ragged, not well defined. 
  • Color: Your mole or dark skin mark consists of many shades of brown or black, or even bits of pink, red, white or blue, rather than being one consistent color throughout the mole. 
  • Diameter: The size of the mark is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser (more than ¼ inch in size).
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color. 

What are the other warning signs of melanoma?

In addition to the most common signs listed above, there are other symptoms that can signal you may have melanoma, such as:

  • A sore that will not heal
  • Skin pigment (color) that spreads from the edge of a mole or mark into other parts of your skin
  • Swelling or redness in or around an existing mole
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain in or near a mole
  • Changes in the mole’s surface, such as a scaly appearance, oozing, bleeding, a lump or bump

Melanoma may show only some of these warning signs, so if you notice even one of these symptoms, have your doctor perform an examination of your skin as soon as possible.

What are the risk factors for developing melanoma?

You are more likely to get melanoma if you have:

  • Fair skin. People with a lighter skin tone have less melanin, which means they have less protection from the sun’s UV rays. This makes light-skinned people more likely to develop skin cancer. But those with darker complexions can also develop melanoma.
  • A history of sunburn. If you have had one or more serious cases of sunburn, such as one that caused blistering, your risk of melanoma increases.
  • Excessive exposure to UV light. This can result from a job that involves hours of working outside, frequent use of tanning beds, and other similar situations.
  • Living near the equator or at a higher elevation. In places like the Caribbean and Denver, the sun’s rays are stronger and more direct, giving people higher doses of UV radiation.
  • Having many freckles or moles. Those who are heavily freckled or have more than 50 ordinary moles are at higher risk of developing melanoma.
  • A family history. If a parent, child or sibling has had melanoma, you are more likely to develop it too.
  • Weakened immune system. Anything that weakens the immune system—such as AIDS, organ transplants, or immune-suppressing medications—makes you more susceptible to skin cancers.

How can I reduce the risk of developing melanoma?

Melanoma is most likely to be effectively treated and cured when it is detected early. So, take the following steps to improve your likelihood of catching melanoma early.


The better you know your own skin, the easier it is to notice when a mole or skin mark is new or has changed. So, get to know your skin with monthly self-checks. Look at yourself head-to-toe in a full-length mirror, in a well-lit room. Use a hand-held mirror to examine parts of your body that are hard to see. Have a family member help you examine your scalp and back.

Routine doctor exams

People with numerous moles and freckles, outdoor jobs, or other risk factors should schedule annual skin check-ups. Some people may require more frequent check-ups. Your doctor will be able to examine areas of your skin that are difficult for you to see, as well as make notes of anything unusual and observe it or test it as needed.

Special doctor visits

In addition, see a doctor anytime you notice any of the warning signs, especially if a mole has changed or a new skin mark has suddenly appeared.

Get Personalized Melanoma Care

Do not let the risk of melanoma go unchecked. At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, we provide caring, individualized diagnosis and treatment plans to help you address any concerns you have about your skin, so you can get back to health. 

Contact us to set up an appointment.

Related Services