The ABCDEs of Spotting Melanoma

The ABCDEs of Spotting Melanoma

Medically reviewed by Elisabetta Liotta, MD

1 in 40 women will develop melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, in her lifetime.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can develop anywhere on the body.

In whites, melanoma is most common on the face, arms, legs, and back.

In black people, melanoma is most common on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the fingernail and toenail beds.

What does melanoma look like?

It can be hard to see signs of skin cancer if you don’t know what you’re looking for. A simple trick to help you spot melanoma? Remember your ABCDEs.

The ABCDE assessment: 5 warning signs of melanoma


One side of the mole is different from the other


The mole has an irregular edge (edge) that is not well defined


The colors (or shades of color) vary from one area of ​​the mole to another

ddiameter/ dark

Mole measures 1/4 inch or larger (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is darker than other moles


The mole is changing shape, size or color

There’s a map for that!

The American Academy of Dermatology has a downloadable mole map where you can make notes during your self-exams.

Beware of the ugly duckling

The “ugly duckling” is a mole that looks different from all the others, and is another early warning sign of melanoma.

Screening saves lives!

Another tool to put in your skin cancer detection toolbox? Annual screenings, which are especially important if you’re at increased risk for skin cancer.

Some risk factors:

  • Light hair or skin

  • Freckles

  • Blue or light eyes

  • More than 50 piers

  • History of frequent or intense sun exposure

  • One or more sunburns

  • Family history of melanoma

Melanoma is highly treatable when caught early. Knowing the warning signs of melanoma and checking your skin regularly can help you catch skin cancer early, before it has a chance to spread.

  • The average 5-year survival rate for melanomas that are diagnosed early is about 99%.

  • Once the melanomas have spread to the lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate drops to 62%

  • If melanomas spread to more distant sites in the body, such as organs, that number drops to 18%

Treating melanoma

Treatment of melanoma depends on how deep it is and whether it has spread.

  • Most melanomas are removed in a minor surgery that removes the cancer and some of the normal skin around it.

  • More advanced melanomas may require more invasive surgery and/or other treatments, such as radiation therapy.

When in doubt, check it out!

If you have a mole that appears to be a problem but you’re not sure, talk to a healthcare professional.

This resource was created with support from Merck.