What are the Warning Signs of Melanoma?

During an inspection of the skin, specific attention should be given to the size, shape, edges and color of each mole. A handy tool in remembering these features is to think of the A-B-C-D-E’s.

The A,B,C,D,E’s of Melanoma


(Source: The American Academy of Dermatology)

Detection/Self Exams

Early detection of melanoma

Although the efficacy of self-exams has been challenged, early detection and recognition of melanoma is nevertheless a key to improving the chance 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 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 ABCD 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


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

The American Cancer Society recommends the following exam schedule:

  • Between the ages of 20-40 – every three years
  • Over the age 40 – every year

Other risk factors including family history of the disease, hair and eye color, having fair skin, the presence of many moles on the body, and exposure to certain chemicals, may warrant more frequent screenings.