Detecting melanoma early could mean the difference between life and a life-threatening illness. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is aggressive and has the ability, in its later stages, to spread throughout the body.

Melanoma does not discriminate – everyone is at risk. Finding a suspicious mole or spot and having it checked out by a professional is considered one of the most important steps in saving your life.

By performing a thorough self-skin examination each month and visiting a dermatologist each year for a professional examination, you will be one step ahead in catching melanoma early.

Monthly self-skin exams

Research shows that we are the ones most likely to spot our own signs of melanoma. Each month, check your entire body for any moles or spots that look new or different. Be sure to check less obvious areas as well, such as your scalp, between your toes and fingers, the backs of your legs and other hard to reach areas – including places that don’t see the sun.

Yearly professional skin exams

At your yearly professional skin exam, your dermatologist will thoroughly check for suspicious moles or lesions on your body, including your scalp, fingers, toes and nail beds. Some dermatology practices may keep a photographic record of certain moles to track any changes between appointments.

What should you look for?

Pay close attention to any spot you notice that is new or changing. This is the most important warning sign of melanoma. Symptoms of melanoma vary, so use this list as a guideline only:

  • Any change on the skin – this could be a new spot, change in color, shape or size of a current mole or spot

  • A spot that doesn't heal

  • A spot that becomes painful, tender, itchy or begins to bleed

  • A spot that looks shiny, waxy, smooth or pale

  • A flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly

  • A black/dark spot or streak under a fingernail or toenail (that doesn't come from previous trauma to the nail)

If you see something, say something

Too often we notice a suspicious mole on ourselves or someone else, yet we don't make it a priority to get it checked out. As many patients and survivors have recounted, their melanoma was found by a friend or partner who happened to notice something different and urged them to see a dermatologist. Catching melanoma in its earliest stages is one of the most important factors in improving the prognosis of a melanoma diagnosis.