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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Skin Cancer, Melanoma - Symptoms

You may not have any symptoms in the early stages of melanoma. Or a melanoma may be sore, or it may itch or bleed.

Most melanomas start as a new skin growth on unmarked skin. The growth may change color, shape, or size. These types of changes are an early sign that the growth is melanoma. But melanoma can also develop in an existing mole or other mark on the skin. Or it may look like a bruise that isn't healing or show up as a brown or black streak under a fingernail or toenail.

Melanoma can grow anywhere on the body. It most often occurs on the upper back in men and women and on the legs in women. Less often, it can grow in other places, such as on the soles, palms, nail beds, or mucous membranes that line body cavities such as the mouth, the rectum, and the vagina.

On older people, the face is the most common place for melanoma to grow. And in older men, the most common sites are the neck, scalp, and ears.1

Signs of melanoma

The most important warning sign for melanoma is any change in size, shape, or color of a mole or other skin growth, such as a birthmark. Watch for changes that occur over a period of weeks to a month. The ABCDE system tells you what changes to look for.

  • A is for asymmetry camera.gif. One half of the mole or skin growth doesn't match the other half.
  • B is for border irregularity camera.gif. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for color camera.gif. The color is not the same throughout the mole.
  • D is for diameter camera.gif. The mole or skin growth is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
  • E is for evolution camera.gif. There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or color of a mole.

Melanoma in an existing mole

Signs of melanoma in an existing mole include changes in:

  • Elevation, such as thickening or raising of a previously flat mole.
  • Surface, such as scaling, erosion, oozing, bleeding, or crusting.
  • Surrounding skin, such as redness, swelling, or small new patches of color around a larger lesion (satellite pigmentations).
  • Sensation, such as itching, tingling, burning, or pain.
  • Consistency, such as softening or small pieces that break off easily.

Many other skin conditions (such as seborrheic keratosis, warts, and basal cell cancer) have features similar to those of melanoma.

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