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Skin Cancer: Symptoms and Detection

The American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society recommend that individuals perform monthly self-examinations.(1)  It is important to keep the ABCDE's (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolution) of melanoma in mind.:

  • Asymmetry: melanomas tend to be asymmetrical while benign lesions are more rounded and symmetric.
  • Borders: Benign lesions are usually regular and flush with the skin while melanomas may have irregular and/or raised borders.
  • Color: Melanomas may be tan, black or brown and often include regions of red, white and blue.
  • Diameter: In general, melanomas are larger than 6 mm in diameter.
  • Evolution: Changes in physical appearance of melanocytic growths are often observed over time and skin marking should be monitored for changes. Because the changes may be gradual, it is a good idea to photograph any suspicious marks, including a ruler or coin for size comparison. This allows for direct comparison of images taken at different times.

Although the ABCDE guidelines assist with a valuable screening tool, it is important to see a physician regularly and especially if one finds a suspicious or irregular skin marking/growth or witnesses a change in an existing skin marking/growth.(1)



irregular border

abnormal color


Images used courtesy of the Skin Cancer Foundation

Click here for information about melanoma treatments and services at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

An imaging system, MelaFind®, developed by Mela Sciences has been approved by the FDA to aid in the detection of melanoma.(2)  Learn more about MelaFind®.

References for this page:
  1. Rager EL, Bridgeford EP, Ollila DW. "Cutaneous melanoma: update on prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment." American Family Physician. 2005 Jul 15;72(2):269-76. [PUBMED]
  2. FDA New Device Approvals and Clearances. MelaFind® - P090012 [http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DeviceApprovalsandClearances/Recently-ApprovedDevices/ucm280864.htm]
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