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Malignant melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. It's a form of skin cancer that usually appears on areas of the body that receive the most sun and, if detected early, malignant melanoma can be treated effectively. Several signs distinguish melanoma from moles or other less serious forms of skin cancer.
The A-B-C-D-E Guide
The five things to look for in malignant melanoma follow the A-B-C-D-E guide. These guidelines tell you to look for patches or spots on the skin that are asymmetrical (A) in shape, have borders (B) that are irregular, have more than one color (C), are larger in diameter (D) than 1/4 inch and are evolving (E) either by changing shape or growing larger. Here's a more detailed rundown for each letter.
Most common skin moles have a round or oval shape. Malignant melanomas are almost always asymmetrical--not round--and have a more rectangular or oblong shape. When inspecting moles, look for ones that are not "round and brown."
Moles and other skin formations--including the less serious skin cancers--usually have smooth borders. Melanomas always have ragged or scalloped borders that don't follow a regular pattern (think of a map of Russia). If you have a skin growth with irregular borders, it's a red flag.
The color of malignant melanoma is another thing that makes it stand out. Most skin growths and moles are various shades of brown but melanomas can have several colors including brown, red, purple and black that are scattered throughout the growth.
Though there are some exceptions --particularly for moles someone has had since birth--large skin growths and moles are another danger sign. Most moles are usually no larger than 1/4 inch in diameter, which is about the diameter of a pencil eraser (placing a pencil eraser over a mole is a good way to measure it for this purpose). Malignant melanomas are almost always larger than a quarter-inch so look for new growths that are large and stand out.
Though new moles pop up regularly as you get older, they rarely get larger. Malignant melanomas stand out because they are always evolving by growing larger and changing colors. Melanomas may also itch and bleed when they are scratched, something moles rarely do. So if you have a large mole that is not round, has irregular borders and multiple colors, have it checked out by a dermatologist or doctor immediately.