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Melanoma

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Signs and symptoms of melanoma

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of melanoma can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Moles are common. On average, people have between 10 and 40 moles on their body. Most moles develop on a person before the age of 40. A normal mole is round or oval, usually flesh-coloured, pink, tan or brown and flat or dome-shaped.

Melanoma has a variety of forms and can appear anywhere on the body. About half of all melanomas start with a change in normal-looking skin. This change usually looks like a dark area or an abnormal new mole. Other melanomas develop from an existing mole, freckle, birthmark or coloured spot. This change in a mole, freckle, birthmark or coloured spot can occur over several months to years.

Melanomas in men are most common on the back. Melanomas in women are most common on the legs.

Signs and symptoms of melanoma include:

  • a new mark or spot on the skin
  • a mole or spot that is changing in size, shape, colour or height (elevation or how much it is raised above the skin)
  • a mole or spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin
  • a mole or spot that is asymmetric (one side of the spot does not match the other)
  • a mole or spot that doesn’t have a well-defined border (the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred)
  • a mole or spot that is not the same colour all over or has changed colour
    • It may be shades of brown, black, pink, red, white or blue.
  • a mole or spot that is more than 6 mm across (about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • a sore that does not heal
  • change in sensation of a mole or spot, including itching, tingling, tenderness or pain
  • a mole or spot that is crusted or bleeding
  • spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
  • new moles that grow around an existing mole
  • redness or a new swelling beyond the border of a spot or mole
  • a growth under a fingernail or toenail or a new pigmented line in a nail

For examples of what to look for, visit the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation.

Late signs and symptoms

Late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs. The symptoms of advanced melanoma will depend on which part of the body is affected. The symptoms are different for everyone and may include:

  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, under the arm or in the groin
  • breathlessness, cough or chest discomfort
  • swelling and discomfort in the abdomen
  • pain or discomfort in the bones
  • headaches or nausea
  • unexplained weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • fatigue

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