Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Melanoma

continued...

Being white or having a fair complexion increases the risk of melanoma, but anyone can have melanoma, including people with dark skin.

Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area.

These and other symptoms may be caused by melanoma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:

  • A mole that:
    • changes in size, shape, or color.
    • has irregular edges or borders.
    • is more than one color.
    • is asymmetrical (if the mole is divided in half, the 2 halves are different in size or shape).
    • itches.
    • oozes, bleeds, or is ulcerated (a hole forms in the skin when the top layer of cells breaks down and the tissue below shows through).
  • A change in pigmented (colored) skin.
  • Satellite moles (new moles that grow near an existing mole).

For pictures and descriptions of common moles and melanoma, see Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma.

Tests that examine the skin are used to detect (find) and diagnose melanoma.

If a mole or pigmented area of the skin changes or looks abnormal, the following tests and procedures can help find and diagnose melanoma:

  • Skin exam: A doctor or nurse checks the skin for moles, birthmarks, or other pigmented areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
  • Biopsy: The removal of as much of the abnormal mole or lesion as possible. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. It can be hard to tell the difference between a colored mole and an early melanoma lesion. Patients may want to have their biopsy sample checked by a second pathologist.

A biopsy should be done on any abnormal areas of the skin. These areas should not be shaved off or cauterized (destroyed with a hot instrument, an electric current, or a caustic substance).

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The thickness of the tumor and where it is in the body.
  • How quickly the cancer cells are dividing.
  • Whether there was bleeding or ulceration at the primary site.
  • Whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or to other places in the body.
  • The number of places cancer has spread to in the body and the level of lactate dehydrogenate (LDH) in the blood.
  • The patient's general health.
1|2
1|2

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Woman checking out tan lines
SLIDESHOW
Cancer Fighting Foods Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
Could Caffeine Help Fight Skin Cancer
VIDEO
 

12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
ARTICLE
precancerous lesions slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
VIDEO
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
ARTICLE
 

screening tests for men
SLIDESHOW
Vitamin D
SLIDESHOW
 
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
VIDEO
Brilliant sun rays
Quiz
 

WebMD Special Sections