How to Spot Melanoma

Early detection of melanoma is key

Early detection and recognition of melanoma is key to improving the chances for successful treatment and overall survival. Recognizing early warning signs of melanoma and doing regular self-examinations of the skin will help find melanoma early when the disease is highly curable.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, not just on areas exposed to the sun.

Self-examination of skin

Self-examinations should be performed monthly in front of a full-length mirror in a brightly lit room. It helps to have another person check the scalp and back of the neck.

Include the following steps in a self-examination:

  • Examine the front and back of the entire body in a mirror, then the right and left sides, with arms raised.
  • Bend the elbows and look carefully at the outer and inner forearms, upper arms (especially the hard-to-see back portion), and hands.
  • Look at the front, sides, and back of the legs and feet, including the soles and the spaces between the toes.
  • Part the hair to lift it, and examine the back of the neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Check the back, genital area, and buttocks with a hand mirror.

Talk with your doctor if you find any of the following:

  • A growth on the skin that matches any feature on the ABCDE rule list, see above
  • New growth on the skin
  • A suspicious change in an existing mole or spot
  • An unusual sensation in a mole, such as itching or tingling
  • Any mole that looks significantly different from all the other moles (ugly duckling)

Screening for melanoma

Routine annual check-ups should include an examination by a dermatologist or other health care professional qualified to diagnose skin cancer.

Risk factors including family history of melanoma, light hair and eye color, fair skin, history of at least one severe sunburn, history of extensive sun exposure, presence of many moles on the body, a weakened immune system and exposure to certain chemicals, may warrant more frequent screenings.

Watch how it’s done

This video from the American Academy of Dermatology highlights the importance of checking for melanoma.