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Alex Fulton

Alex Fulton has been working in the wellness field for more than 20 years. She has written extensively about integrative medicine, herbalism, supplements and other topics related to holistic health. Alex also focuses on issues related to women's health, from menstruation to menopause. She has collaborated with physicians, midwives and functional medicine practitioners to promote natural approaches to health care for women. She has a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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woman wearing a bikini holding an umbrella with possible spots of melanoma on her skin

The ABCDEs of Spotting Melanoma

A few simple tricks can help you check for this deadly skin cancer

Conditions & Treatments

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Liotta, M.D.

Infographic The ABCDEs of Spotting Melanoma. Click the image to open the PDF

1 in 40 women will be affected by melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, in her lifetime.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can develop anywhere on your body.

In white people, melanoma is most common on the face, arms, leg and back.

In people of color, melanoma is most common on the palms of the hand, the soles of the feet and fingernail and toenail beds.

What does melanoma look like?

It can be hard to see signs of skin cancer if you don’t know what you’re looking for. One simple trick to help you spot melanoma? Remember your ABCDEs.

The ABCDE Assessment: 5 Warning Signs of Melanoma


One side of the mole is different from the other


Mole has an irregular border (edge) that is not well-defined


Colors (or shades of color) vary from one area of the mole to the next

Diameter/ Dark

Mole measures 1/4 inch or larger (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is darker than other moles


The mole is changing in shape, size or color

There’s a map for that!

The American Academy of Dermatology has a downloadable body mole map where you can make notes during your self-exams.

Beware the ugly duckling

The “ugly duckling” is a mole that looks different from all the others, and it’s another warning sign of melanoma.

Screening saves lives!

Another tool to put in your skin cancer detection toolbox? Yearly screenings, which are especially important if you’re at increased risk for skin cancer.

Some risk factors :

  • Fair hair or skin
  • Freckles
  • Blue or light-colored eyes
  • More than 50 moles
  • History of frequent or intense sun exposure
  • One or more blistering sunburns
  • Family history of melanoma

Melanoma is highly treatable when it’s caught early. Knowing the warning signs of melanoma and regularly checking your skin can help you spot skin cancer early, before it has a chance to spread.

  • The average 5-year survival rate for melanomas that are caught early is about 99%
  • Once melanomas spread to the lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate drops to 62%
  • If melanomas spread to farther body sites, such as organs, that number drops to 18%

Treating melanoma

How melanoma is treated depends on how deep it is and if it has spread.

  • Most melanomas are removed with minor surgery that cuts out the cancer and some of the normal skin surrounding it.
  • More advanced melanomas may call for more invasive surgery and/or other treatments, such as radiation therapy.

When in doubt, check it out!

If you have a mole that looks like it might be a problem but you’re not sure, talk to a healthcare provider.

Melanoma Resource List

HealthyWomen Resources

En Español

Additional Resources

This resource was created with support from Merck.

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