Melanoma

Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in the skin, either in a mole or in normal-looking skin. About half of all melanomas start in normal-looking skin.

The number of people developing melanoma is continuing to rise. About 12,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year. In the UK, melanoma is slightly more common in women than in men. It is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15-34. Although like most cancers, it's more common in older people.

In women, the most common place to develop melanoma is on the legs. In men, it's on the chest and the back.

Symptoms of Melanoma

About half of all melanomas start with a change in previously normal-looking skin. This usually looks like a dark area or an abnormal new mole. Other melanomas develop from a mole or freckle that you already have.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a melanoma and a normal mole. The following checklist (known as the ABCDE list) helps explain what to look for.

A - Asymmetry

Most melanomas are likely to be an irregular shape or asymmetrical (not symmetrical). Ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same).

B - Border

Melanomas are more likely to have a blurred or irregular border with jagged edges. Ordinary moles usually have a well-defined, clear, smooth-edged border.

C - Colour

Melanomas tend to be more than one colour. They may have different shades, such as brown mixed with a black, red, pink, white or blue tint. Normal moles tend to be one shade of brown.

D - Diameter (width)

Melanomas are usually more than 6mm wide. Normal moles are not usually bigger than the blunt end of a pencil.

E - Evolving (changing)

If you notice any changes to a mole, you should visit your GP. The change in shape can include the area becoming raised or dome-shaped.

When to see a doctor

Visit your doctor straight away if you have:

  • any of the ABCDE signs
  • any unusual marks on the skin that last for more than a few weeks
  • a mole that tingles or itches
  • crusting or bleeding of a mole
  • something growing under a nail or a new dark-coloured stripe along part of the nail.

A good time to check your skin is after a bath or shower. Make sure you have plenty of light. Use a full-length mirror and a small hand-held mirror for areas that are hard to see. This will get easier with time as you become more familiar with your skin and what your moles normally look like.

You can ask your partner, a relative or friend to look at your back, neck and parts of your skin that are hard to see. You could also take pictures of your moles so you can see if there are any changes over time. Checking for these signs is very important as melanoma can usually be cured if it's found at an early stage.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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