What does melanoma look like?

Jenny C. Hu, MD
The ABCDE of melanoma is an acronym for the different features of melanoma.
  • A stands for asymmetry. If a mole is asymmetric, it means that part of the mole doesn’t look like the other part of the mole. For example, a symmetric mole will look round with the same color, but an asymmetric mole has an irregular shape, irregular edges and an irregular color.
  • B stands for border. Normally the border of a mole is smooth. However, some people have slightly jagged moles. If you have one that’s really jagged, that would be suspicious for melanoma.
  • C stands for color. Usually moles have one color. Any time you have a mole with more than one color or color that’s not evenly spread throughout the entire mole, then melanoma is a concern. It doesn’t mean that it necessarily is a melanoma, but you should be aware that it might be a melanoma.
  • D stands for diameter. If the mole is larger than six millimeters (mm) -- the size of pencil eraser -- you should have it checked. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a melanoma, but it’s worth having it checked.
  • E stands for evolving. Anything about your mole that’s been changing -- growing in size, changing in color, becoming more asymmetric or even looking a little strange -- should be checked by your doctor. Again, it does not necessarily mean it is a melanoma, but you should have it checked.
Audrey Kunin, MD

While the American Academy of Dermatology doesn't expect the general public to be home dermatologists, there are 5 signs to know that can save your life. These are the official ABCD's (and now I'd like to unofficially add an E) of melanoma.

  • Asymmetry. The mole is not completely even in appearance. 
  • Border. The margins should be even and smooth, without ratty or projecting edges. 
  • Circumference. The mole should be nice and round, without jagged or sharp edges 
  • Diameter. The size of the mole should not be more than 6mm measured across the mole. This is the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving (changes) - Any changes over time in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (bleeding, scaling, inflammation), and shades of color.

Other signs to pay close attention to include rapid mole growth, formation of a sore, and itching or bleeding within the mole. The signs and symptoms do not automatically mean the mole is malignant or even dysplastic. But, these are definitely a reason to seek out a dermatology evaluation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.