Melanoma is a common form of skin cancer that develops from skin cells called melanocytes. These skin cells are responsible for producing color segments. These pigmented lesions are quite similar to regular skin moles to an ordinary eye. However, they can be easily distinguished from regular harmless moles once looked closely.
Regular moles are usually symmetrical but melanoma moles are asymmetrical. This means that if you cut a melanoma mole into half by drawing an imaginary line, both side of the mole would look different from each other. This is not the case with regular skin moles.
If you look closely at the border of a mole, you will quickly recognize melanoma. A regular mole has distinct and clear borders whereas a melanoma has irregular borders that have somewhat blurry appearance. These cancerous moles also have a white ring circling them that becomes visible over time. You may also notice some satellites outside the borders of a melanoma.
A normal mole is usually a single color. In contrast, melanomas are typically more than one color. Shades of tan, brown and black are common in melanomas. Small areas of white, red and blue may also be present. Sudden darkening of a preexisting mole may be a sign that it has transformed into a melanoma.
Most melanomas measure more than 6 millimeters across–about as big around as the diameter of a pencil. Although some melanomas are smaller than 6 millimeters and some moles are larger than 6 millimeters, using this cutoff can help determine if a lesion is suspicious.
Evolution in this context refers to whether a lesion is changing. Moles generally do not change, or they change slowly over many years. In contrast, melanomas can change rather quickly. They may change in size, shape, color or other ways such as becoming ulcerated or beginning to itch.
Evolution also refers to a lesion that is unlike the others. If a spot on your skin looks like all your other moles, then it probably is just another mole. However, if the spot is different from your other moles in one or more ways, that could be a red flag for melanoma.
Melanomas can have surface characteristics that moles usually do not have. These include scaliness, crusting, oozing, ulceration and bleeding.
Melanomas can cause symptoms that moles usually do not. A pigmented skin lesion that is painful, tender or itches is suggestive of a melanoma.
Melanoma is a potentially deadly cancer, which typically shows some or all of these ABCDE changes. Other times the changes can be subtle and difficult to appreciate. If you notice a suspicious spot on your skin, see your doctor to have it checked. Early detection is the key to survival with melanoma.