Melanoma and Skin Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Melanoma is hard to detect in the early stages because it often has no visible signs.

Other types of skin cancers may cause symptoms and signs such as:

  • Black or brown growths
  • Extreme sunburn
  • Open sores
  • Red or pink skin patches
  • Scaly or bleeding growths
  • Shiny bumps or growths

The ABCDE's of Melanoma: Signs to Look For

Melanoma has an easy-to-remember list of signs: the ABCDE's. These letters identify the characteristics of moles that are most likely to form melanoma.

You and your doctor can look at your moles, taking note of the following:

  • A = Asymmetry — sides of the mole or lesion do not match.
  • B = Border — melanomas tend to have uneven borders.
  • C = Color — melanomas tend to have a variety of colors in a single lesion.
  • D = Diameter — melanomas tend to be larger than benign moles.
  • E = Evolution — melanomas evolve or change over time.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance a person might get skin cancer. In some cases, people can change their habits or job to reduce or eliminate skin cancer risk factors.

The main risk factor for melanoma and other skin cancers is unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation. This can be in the form of either sunlight or tanning bed beams.

Other factors that can increase your risk for skin cancer are:

  • A large number of moles or atypical moles.
  • Fair skin, eyes, or hair.
  • Prior skin cancer diagnosis.
  • Weakened immune system — from chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, or anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

UPMC CancerCenter specialists conduct visual exams of your skin to see if you should have further testing for melanoma and skin cancer.

Your doctor may suggest a biopsy if he or she believes it would help arrive at a diagnosis.

In a biopsy, your doctor removes a small sample of skin from the lesion or affected area. He or she then sends the tissue to the pathology lab for testing.

There are two main types of biopsy for skin cancer:

  • In a shave biopsy, the doctor uses a small blade to remove a piece of tissue.
  • In a punch biopsy, the doctor uses a round cutter to remove a deeper sample of skin.

Your doctor will discuss your biopsy with you in detail and tell you what to expect. These are routine tests that usually don't require much preparation or recovery time on your part.

Staging ensures that every member of your care team knows your exact type of skin cancer, and its size, location, and spread.

Your care team will conduct tests and procedures to classify the type and stage of your melanoma or skin cancer.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Prognosis and Outcomes

UPMC CancerCenter is a partner of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). UPCI is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the region.

Our teams collaborate closely and consider not just the stage or type of cancer. We also keep in mind factors that affect a person’s wellbeing.

Skin cancer experts work with nutrition, pain, and other specialists to ensure the focus is on you — not the disease.

Your melanoma or skin cancer prognosis will depend on:

  • Your diagnosis.
  • Your basic health.
  • How well your melanoma and skin cancer care team expects your treatment plan to work.

Our goal is achieve the best outcome possible for your unique needs.

UPMC CancerCenter also provides free, monthly skin cancer screenings. To learn more or make an appointment for a free screening, call 412-692-4724.

Contact the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program

For more about melanoma and skin cancer diagnosis and care at UPMC CancerCenter, call us at 412-647-2811.