Melanoma Images

What Does Melanoma Look Like?

Melanoma is a serious and potentially life-threatening type of skin cancer that requires early detection for effective treatment. Recognizing what melanoma looks like is crucial in identifying suspicious moles or lesions on your skin. It’s important to note that the appearance of melanoma can vary from person to person, but if you are aware of certain characteristic features, you have a better chance of identifying it earlier, before it has time to spread and become harder to treat.

Cutaneous (meaning “skin”) melanoma often presents as an irregular-shaped mole or lesion with asymmetrical borders. Unlike benign (non-cancerous) moles that are usually round or oval-shaped with smooth and definitive edges, melanomas may have jagged edges or notched borders. Additionally, melanomas tend to be larger than regular moles and grow rapidly.

A certain subtype called nodular melanoma may present as a dome-shaped nodule, and another subtype called lentigo maligna melanoma may present itself in a preexisting lentigo, which is a dark, flat or slightly raised, non-cancerous spot on the skin, also known as a sunspot.

Another characteristic feature of melanoma is its color variation. While normal moles or sunspots are usually pigmented with a single shade of brown, black, or tan, melanomas may exhibit multiple colors within the same lesion. These colors range from dark brown and black to red, blue, or even white. Other types of melanomas, called amelanotic, appear as pink or reddish moles, which may be surrounded with color.

An uneven surface texture is another characteristic feature of melanomas. A lesion may appear raised or bumpy and could feel rough to the touch compared to surrounding healthy skin. The size may have changed with the texture as well.

Note: The above descriptions of common characteristics of melanoma are more likely to be representative of melanomas in lighter-skinned people than of melanomas in darker-skinned people because melanoma is far more common in lighter-skinned people than darker-skinned people.

A rare subtype of melanoma, Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM), can develop in people of all skin types, but it’s a type of melanoma of which those with skin of color should be particularly aware because as many as 20% of melanomas diagnosed in those with skin of color are ALM. ALM primarily affects non-hair-bearing surfaces of the body, including the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and underneath finger and toenails. It is known for its aggressive nature and potential to spread to other parts of the body.

When ALM appears on the palm or sole, it looks like a bruise or an elevated, thickened patch—usually tan, brown, or black, with variations in color and irregular borders. When ALM occurs under the fingernail or toenail, it may present as a brown, black, or blue streak in the nail. It can also appear as a non-pigmented lesion, making it difficult to detect in its early stages. Delayed diagnosis contributes to ALM being diagnosed at more advanced stages, especially in those with skin of color.

Recognizing what melanoma looks like is essential for early detection and prompt medical intervention. Performing regular skin self-examinations and seeking professional evaluation when suspicious changes occur are crucial steps in preventing the progression of this potentially deadly disease.