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Melanoma and Skin Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

Melanoma is hard to detect in the early stages because it often has no visible signs.

The first sign may be a change in an existing mole or a new or odd growth on your skin.

More changes that may suggest melanoma include:

  • Itching
  • Oozing
  • Bleeding

Other types of skin cancers may cause symptoms and signs such as:

  • Black or brown growths.
  • Extreme sunburn.
  • Open sores.
  • Red or pink skin patches.
  • Scaly or bleeding growths.
  • Shiny bumps or growths.

The ABCDE's of Melanoma: Signs to Look For

Each letter describes the features of moles that are most likely to form melanoma.

You should take note of any of these traits and talk with your doctor.

A = asymmetry

Look for moles or growths with:

  • An odd shape.
  • Two different-looking halves.
  • Sides that don't match.

B = border

Look for moles or growths with borders that are:

  • Notched.
  • Uneven.
  • Scalloped.

C = color

Look for moles or growths that:

  • Have many different colors. Melanomas tend to have an array of colors in a single lesion.
  • Get darker over time.

D = diameter

Look for moles or growths larger than ¼ inch in diameter (larger than a pencil eraser).

Melanomas tend to be bigger than benign moles.

E = evolution

Look for moles or growths that change over time.

A mole or growth with one or more of these traits doesn't mean you have melanoma.

But be sure to discuss any suspicious skin lesions with your doctor.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance a person might get skin cancer. In some cases, people can change their habits or job to reduce or eliminate their risks.

Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays is the main risk factor for melanoma and other skin cancers. This can be in the form of either sunlight or tanning bed beams.

Other factors that can increase your risk for skin cancer are having:

  • A lot of moles or atypical moles.
  • Fair skin, eyes, or hair.
  • A prior skin cancer diagnosis.
  • A weakened immune system — from chemo, HIV/AIDS, or anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Accurate diagnosis is essential to the successful treatment of melanoma.

The doctors at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center may use one or more of these tests to learn if you have skin cancer:

  • Skin exam: Your doctor will do a head-to-toe check for suspect moles or growths.
  • Shave biopsy: Your doctor will use a small blade to remove a piece of tissue from the top layer of skin.
  • Punch biopsy: Your doctor will use a round tool that looks like a cookie cutter. They'll remove the mole and some surrounding tissue — about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Excisional biopsy: Your doctor will use a scalpel to remove the mole or growth and a small border of normal skin. This is the most common test doctors use when they strongly suspect melanoma.
  • Incisional biopsy: Your doctor will remove the irregular part of a mole. Doctors use this test to diagnose growths in fatty tissue and deep layers of skin.

Your doctor will talk with you about your biopsy in detail and tell you what to expect.

These are routine tests that usually don't require much preparation or recovery time on your part.

Staging Melanoma and Skin Cancers

If you have melanoma, staging is a vital factor in planning treatment. It also ensures that each member of your care team knows your exact type of skin cancer, and its size and location.

Your doctor will measure the thickness of your melanoma and see if it has spread.

Melanoma staging uses Roman numerals I through IV.

  • Stage I means that the cancerous growth is small and hasn't spread.
  • Stage IV melanoma means that the cancer has spread to other organs, such as your lungs or liver.

Based on the stage of your cancer, your doctor will design a customized treatment plan for you.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Prognosis and Outcomes

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Our teams do more than just diagnose and treat your stage or type of skin cancer. We also keep in mind factors that affect your wellbeing.

Skin cancer experts work with nutrition, pain, and other specialists to make sure the focus is on you — not the disease.

Your melanoma or skin cancer prognosis will depend on:

  • Your diagnosis.
  • Your basic health.
  • How well your care team expects your treatment plan to work.

Our goal is to achieve the best outcome possible for your unique needs.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center also provides free, monthly skin cancer screenings.

Contact Us About Melanoma and Skin Cancer Care

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has more than 70 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and western New York.

To learn more about melanoma and skin cancer diagnosis and care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call 855-960-0578. Or contact a UPMC Hillman Cancer Center near you.