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The ABCDE's of Melanoma

The ABCDE's of Melanoma

By Lana Pho, MD

May 15, 2018

Updated Oct 25, 2023

5 min read

Melanoma May Lana blog

If you have a genetic predisposition to skin cancer or are prone to sunburns, knowing about melanoma could save your life — or the life of a friend or loved one. A recent news story mentions how melanoma skin cancer was detected in a family member thanks to a social media post that sparked concern. What made the difference? Knowing how to spot the warning signs of melanoma. 

As the deadliest of skin cancers, detecting a melanoma — which is a malignant tumor — is an important thing to know. The good news is if found early, melanoma can be effectively treated. The difficulty with melanoma is that the symptoms are not always obvious, so for most of us it’s important to pay attention to our skin. Here’s how to detect the most serious form of skin cancer.

Can you spot a melanoma? 

Melanoma’s often resemble moles, and some will develop from moles. The first signs of a melanoma or a malignant (cancerous) mole usually appear in one or more atypical moles.

The best way to remember how to identify a melanoma is using your ABCDE's. Here are the warning signs to spot a melanoma. If you have one or more of these signs, see a board-certified dermatologist immediately:

A: An ASYMMETRICAL shape, meaning if you draw a line through the middle of the mole, the two sides won’t match up.

B: A benign mole has an even border. A malignant mole has an uneven BORDER.

C: A benign mole is one color. The COLOR varies on melanomas. Most are black or brown, with a color that changes from one shade to another. You may notice skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.

D: Benign moles are small. Malignant moles have a DIAMETER that’s usually greater than 6 mm; the length of a pencil eraser.

E: Benign moles change minimally over time. A malignant mole is EVOLVING or changing. It’s changing in size, shape, or color; it is different from the others on your body. It may also bleed or itch.

Why early detection?

If detected early, melanoma cancer survival is dramatically improved with effective treatment. In fact, if treated very early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. However, this depends on a number of factors. Treatment options include removal of the melanoma, typically through outpatient surgery.

Any other suspicious spots?

Other types of skin cancer you might have heard of that are more common than melanoma include:

If you find any spot on your skin that is suspicious, or is changing, itching, or bleeding, see a board-certified dermatologist. Search Intermountain dermatologists here