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The ABCDE of Melanoma

The ABCDE of Melanoma

The ABCDE of Melanoma

abcde in sun

Melanoma is a malignant tumor that originates in melanocytes, the cells which produce the pigment melanin that colors our skin, hair, and eyes. The majority of melanomas are black or brown. However, some melanomas are skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Most melanomas can be treated successfully if they are detected at an early stage. If melanoma is not detected at an early stage, it can spread to other parts of the body and is potentially a lethal form of cancer.

 Symptoms of Melanoma

Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. Thinking of “ABCDE” can help you remember what to look for:


Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.  Normal moles or freckles are completely symmetrical. If you were to draw a line through a normal spot, you would have two symmetrical halves. In cases of skin cancer, spots will not look the same on both sides.

Border: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.  A mole or spot with blurry and/or jagged edges.

Color: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.  A mole that is more than one hue is suspicious and needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Normal spots are usually one color. This can include lightening or darkening of the mole.

Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch). If it is larger than a pencil eraser, it needs to be examined by a doctor. This includes areas that do not have any other abnormalities (color, border, asymmetry).

Elevation: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.   Elevation means the mole is raised above the surface and has an uneven surface.

Finding melanoma early is the key to curing this terrible disease. That is why learning the ABCDE rule for skin cancer is so important. This system provides an easy way to recognize moles and growths that might be cancerous.

Although most of your “suspicious” moles will turn out to be normal non-cancerous moles, it is much better to be safe than sorry. To not see, or simply ignore an early melanoma can be devastating. Because melanoma can disguise itself as a strange looking mole, be sure to review the ABCDE rule for skin cancer to properly identify abnormal growths.

If your mole or growth has one or more of the ABCDE’s, you should show it to your doctor as soon as possible!


The basic ABCDE warning signs to determine whether a mole is a melanoma are as follows, (American Academy of Dermatology, AAD 2009):

An active life in the great outdoors can be invigorating and rewarding, but it also has its risks. A lifetime of sun exposure can put you at risk for melanoma. Understanding the dangers of this disease is critical.  Time in the sun is fun, but excessive UV exposure is a major risk factor for developing melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Learn more about the signs, causes, and risk factors for this condition.


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