The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer and Melanoma

The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer and Melanoma

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As a primary care provider, nurse practitioner or PA, are you interested in learning more about how you can have skin concerns in your practice co-managed with an 'on-demand' dermatologist? Learn more here.

If you are a patient seeking a first or second opinion from a dermatologist on a spot mole or rash of concern, you can access a dermatologist via your local primary care provider or urgent care clinic. Find our list of partner locations here.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) start to grow out of control. It can develop on the body, including the eyes and lymph nodes, but it almost always occurs on the skin. It most commonly occurs on the trunk in men and arms/legs in women, but can be anywhere. While melanoma is rare in people with darker skin types, there is often a worse outcome due to delay in diagnosis in part due to lack of awareness. Melanomas in darker skin types occurs on the hands/feet including fingers and toenail beds, groin and oral mucosa. Melanoma is potentially more dangerous than some of the other skin cancers, like basal cell and most squamous cell carcinomas, because it is able to spread to other organs if not treated at an early stage. Therefore, early detection of melanoma is crucial, so look for anything new, changing, or unusual. An easy way to remember the common characteristics of melanoma is the first five letters of the alphabet, or the ABCDE’s of Melanoma. ABCDE stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and most importantly, evolution. This isn’t exhaustive, but it is a good place to start. You do not want to wait for a mole to hurt, bleed or bother you before you get it checked out.

A is for Asymmetry

Most melanomas are asymmetrical, meaning the shape isn’t uniform. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves won’t match. Non-cancerous/common moles are typically symmetrical.



B is for Border

Melanoma borders tend to be uneven or not well defined. They may have scalloped, or notched, or blurred edges. Common moles usually have smooth, well-defined borders.

                            Uneven border

C is for Color

Melanoma lesions often have more than one color or shade. While benign (non-cancerous) moles tend to be a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan, or black. As it grows, the colors red, white, or blue may also appear.

                           Multiple colors

D is for Diameter

If a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm, or 1/4 of an inch in diameter), or larger, it is an immediate concern for melanoma. Although early melanomas are not uncommonly smaller.


                            Regular mole                   


                 Melanoma compared to pencil eraser

E is for Evolution

Melanoma will often change characteristics over time. Any change in size, shape, color or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as shiny appearance, bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

                   Before and after of a melanoma

If you notice these warning signs and symptoms, or see anything new, changing or unusual on your skin, see a dermatologist. While most skin lesions and moles are not cancerous, it’s always best to get checked just to be sure. Skin cancer is common, and when it’s caught early, most skin cancer – including melanoma – can be cured.

In-Person Skin Spot Check

The Modern Ritual In-Person Skin Spot Check is a great and easy way to get any spots, moles, and scars checked with recommendations in less than 2 days and care navigation service to ensure that everyone has access to the care they deserve!

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