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Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer.

When doctors diagnose melanoma early, they often can treat it before it starts to spread (metastasize). But detecting melanomas can prove tricky because they don't all look the same.

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in an existing mole. Or you may notice a new or odd-looking growth on your skin.

It's vital to check your skin often for new growths or any changes to existing moles.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Symptoms

Melanoma symptoms can include bleeding, itching, and oozing.

More symptoms of melanoma or other skin cancers may include:

  • Black, brown, red, pink, or white growths.
  • Open sores (known as ulcerations).
  • Red, pink, or colorless skin patches.
  • Scaly or bleeding growths.
  • Shiny bumps or growths.

ABCDE Melanoma: Signs To Look For

When checking your skin for moles, growths, or other skin changes, remember the ABCDE of melanoma.

If you notice growths with any of these features on your skin, talk with your doctor:

When something is symmetrical, the two sides match. The two halves of melanoma often don't match and are asymmetrical.

Look for moles or growths with:

  • Odd shapes.
  • Sides that don't match.

The edges — or borders — of melanoma moles and growths often don't have smooth edges.

Look for moles and growths with edges that are:

  • Notched.
  • Uneven.
  • Scalloped (like a clamshell).

Melanomas may have black, brown, red, pink, or white coloring. Some are colorless.

Most noncancerous (benign) moles and growths are one single color.

Look for moles or growths that:

  • Have many different shades of a single color or are more than one color. A melanoma might contain several shades of brown, black, or tan.
  • Change colors as they get larger. You might start to see red or white in a mole that was previously only black or brown.
  • Are getting darker. A doctor should check any mole that is much darker than other moles on your skin.

Melanomas are usually large.

If a mole's diameter (circular size) is bigger than a pencil's eraser (about ¼ inch in diameter), have your doctor check it.

Evolution means change. Though not all changes mean cancer, it's vital to tell your doctor about any changes to your skin.

Look for moles or growths that have new symptoms like:

  • Changing color.
  • Getting bigger by spreading out or growing higher on the surface of your skin.
  • Bleeding or itching.
  • Crusting over.

It's crucial to know your own skin.

If you have a new mole that looks nothing like other ones on your skin, let your doctor know.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides free monthly skin cancer screenings.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance that you might get skin cancer.

Melanoma risk factors include:

  • Having many moles (more than 50).
  • Having fair skin, eyes, or hair. Your body makes less melanin, which protects skin from the sun.
  • A history of skin cancer. If past sun damage caused skin cancer before, the risk factor remains and may contribute to new cancers.
  • A weakened immune system. Cancer treatment, having HIV or AIDS, or taking anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant can suppress your immune system. If you have a weakened immune system, it can't fight cancer cells as it normally would.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosing melanoma early is vital in treating these cancers. With a proper diagnosis, you can get treatment and prevent melanoma from spreading to lymph nodes and other organs.

To learn if you have melanoma or another skin cancer type, doctors at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center may use a:

  • Skin exam: Doctors do a head-to-toe check for moles or growths.
  • Shave biopsy: Doctors use a small blade (scalpel) to remove a piece of tissue from the top layer of skin. If your doctor suspects melanoma, they may use a different biopsy type that collects a deeper skin sample.
  • Excisional biopsy: Doctors use a scalpel to remove the entire mole or growth and a small border of normal skin (margin). This is the most common test doctors use when they suspect melanoma.
  • Punch biopsy: Doctors use a round tool to remove the mole and some surrounding tissue. The sample is about the size of a pencil eraser. If the sample is large, you may have stitches to close the biopsy site.
  • Incisional biopsy: Doctors remove only the irregular part of a mole. They may use this test when they're unable to remove the entire growth due to its location.

Your doctor will talk with you about your biopsy and let you know what to expect. They'll also tell you when to expect results.

Staging Melanoma and Skin Cancers

Your doctor uses staging to plan your customized melanoma treatment.

Doctors stage melanoma by finding out if cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of your body.

They measure the thickness of melanoma to see how deep into the skin it has grown. They also see if it has spread across the skin or to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 0 is the earliest melanoma stage. If you have stage 0 melanoma, it has not yet spread.

Stage 4 melanoma is the most advanced form and has spread to other organs, such as your lungs or liver.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Outcomes

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

This means our experts have proven excellence in:

  • Cancer research.
  • Patient care.
  • Cancer education.
  • Community outreach.

We work together to help you achieve the best possible health outcomes.

Depending on melanoma's stage and your treatment plan, our skin cancer experts may suggest that you see UPMC specialists in:

  • Nutrition.
  • Pain management.
  • Physical and occupational therapy.

Contact Us About Melanoma and Skin Cancer Care

To learn more about melanoma and skin cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: