Melanoma (cont.)

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What does melanoma look like? What are the symptoms and signs?

Guideline # 3: A changing spot may be a problem, but not every change is a problem. A mole may appear and then get bigger or become raised but still be only a mole.

Most public health information about melanoma stresses the so-called ABCDs:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole is different from the other half.
  • Border irregularity: The spot has borders which are not smooth and regular but uneven or notched.
  • Color: The spot has several colors in an irregular pattern or is a very different color than the rest of your moles.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.

These guidelines are somewhat helpful, but the problem is that many normal moles are not completely symmetrical in their shape or color. This means that many spots, which seem to have one or more of the ABCDs, are in fact just ordinary moles and not melanomas. Additionally, some melanomas do not fit this description but may still be spotted by your dermatologist.

What if the skin changes are rapid or dramatic?

Guideline # 4: The more rapid and dramatic the change, the less serious the problem.

When changes such as pain, swelling, or even bleeding come on rapidly, within a day or two, they are likely to be caused by minor trauma, often a kind you don't remember (like scratching the spot in your sleep). If a spot changes rapidly and then goes back to the way it was within a couple of weeks, or falls off altogether, it is not likely to represent anything serious. Keep in mind that what may seem like the sudden appearance of a spot or a rapid change in its appearance may just mean that something (or someone) has prompted you to look at an old spot for the first time.

Nevertheless, this would be a good time to say once again: Nobody can diagnose him- or herself. If you see a spot that looks as though it is new or changing, show it to a doctor. When it comes to spots on the skin, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/24/2014

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