Melanoma Detection and Diagnosis

Early detection of melanoma is critical to your chances of surviving. If caught early, melanoma is almost 100 percent curable. If not caught early, it can spread quickly through your body and can be fatal. If you have any risk factors for melanoma, regular self exams and exams by a health care professional should be part of your health care regimen. Everyone, regardless of whether or not you have any risk factors, should be diligent about examining their bodies for any changes to moles or their skin.

Conducting a Self-exam

It’s best to conduct a self-exam monthly. This includes checking your entire body. Even if areas of your body are usually not in sunlight, it does not mean those areas are free from moles or other skin changes. Here are guidelines for how to check you body from top to bottom.

  • Use a mirror
  • Check your head and face. Use a blow dryer to check your scalp
  • Check hands, arms, elbows and underarms
  • Check your neck, chest and torso. Women should lift and check under their breasts
  • Check back of neck, back, buttocks and legs
  • Check legs, feet (including bottoms of feet)
  • Sitting down use a mirror to examine genitals
  • Look for darkening of fingernails and/or toe nails
  • Ask your doctor to assess during routine exams

Checking for Mole Changes

When checking for moles, the ABCDE method can help you remember what skin changes to look for.

  • Asymmetry: if you draw a line through the mole, the halves do not match
  • Border: borders are uneven, maybe scalloped or notched
  • Color: several colors are present in the mole, such as shades of brown, tan and black. The mole could also turn blue or red
  • Diameter: melanomas are larger in diameter than the size of a pencil eraser (1/4 inch)
  • Evolving: any changes to a mole are a warning sign, including changes to size, color, shape or if it becomes itchy or bleeds

Exam by a Health Care Professional

In addition to monthly self-exams, it’s best to get regular exams by a dermatologist or other health care professional.

Melanoma Diagnosis

A complete medical history, with special attention paid to family history of melanoma among immediate family member such as father, mother, brother or sister, and a physical exam helps your physician determine the level of risk that your signs or symptoms are melanoma.

The only definitive way to diagnose melanoma is a biopsy of the abnormal area of the skin that can be analyzed in the lab.