Melanoma: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that forms in pigment-forming cells (melanocytes). (A mole, or melanocytic nevus, is a benign tumor of these pigment-forming cells.) Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Rarely, melanomas can be found in other areas of the body that contain pigment-forming cells, including the eye, the tissues around the brain and spinal cord, or the digestive tract. Melanomas of the skin produce changes in the appearance of the skin, but these changes can sometimes be seen with other skin conditions. The characteristic symptoms include a change in an existing mole or new mole with asymmetric borders, uneven coloring, increasing size, scaling, or itching. Melanomas are typically not painful. It is always important to seek medical advice when you develop a new pigmented spot on the skin or have a mole that is growing or changing.

Causes of melanoma

The cause of melanoma is not well understood. However, there are certain risk factors that increase your likelihood of getting melanoma. These include having atypical or dysplastic moles, having a large number of moles, having fair skin and light eyes, and having a personal or family history of melanoma. A history of blistering sunburns as a child or teen is another risk factor for melanoma.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/29/2018

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