Signs and symptoms of melanoma

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer?

The two most common signs of melanoma skin cancer are:

  • The appearance of a new mole or lesion on your body
  • A change in an existing mole or lesion (such as change in shape, colour, bleeding or itching)

The ABCDE’F’ checklist can help you spot melanoma skin cancer:

This is a useful checklist to refer to when looking at your skin. If any of your moles or lesions show the following – make an appointment to see your GP:

  • Asymmetry: two halves differ in shape

  • Border: edges irregular or jagged
  • Colour: uneven/patchy; shades of black, white, grey, brown or pink; two or more colours = suspicious
  • Diameter: for most melanomas, at least 6mm
  • Evolving: changing in size, shape or colour
  • ‘Funny’: if it looks odd, or you arent happy about it for any reason

While checklists are relevant for the most common form of melanoma, they are not completely reliable as melanoma can vary and may not show these features. Here are key signs to look out for:

  • Changed: It is new or seems to have changed since you last saw it (don’t look for detail; you can see it has changed just by glancing at the lesion, that’s enough)
  • Not going away: Once a new lesion has appeared, it remains on the skin for longer than 6-8 weeks
  • Odd (the most crucial test): It simply looks strange, worries you or seems to be different from other lesions on your skin, then you should get it looked at by a doctor, who may refer you to a specialist – usually a dermatologist

For more information about checking your skin, click here.

Melanoma skin cancer symptoms:

Symptoms for Early Stage melanoma skin cancers

If you have an early-stage melanoma (stage 1 or 2), you are unlikely to feel unwell or have any additional symptoms other than the appearance, or change in appearance, of your mole or lesion. Early stage melanomas are more likely to be cured if caught early.

This is why Melanoma Focus encourages everyone to check their skin and nails monthly and contact your GP immediately if you notice a new mole, lesion, nail streak or a change in a preexisting area.

Understand how melanoma is diagnosed

Close up view of mole on the back of female neck

Symptoms of advanced melanoma skin cancers

If diagnosed with a later stage melanoma (stage 3 or 4) you may experience other symptoms, for example at stage 3 some people experience swollen lymph nodes.

People with stage 4 melanoma may experience symptoms related to the melanoma spreading to other parts of the body called metastases, rather than just an odd looking mole or lesion. This could be lymph nodes and skin in a distant location from the original melanoma, or organs such as the lungs, liver, brain, bones and the bowel. Stage 4 melanoma is also called advanced melanoma.

However not everyone who is diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma will experience these symptoms – there may be no symptoms, or you may experience different symptoms.

More information to help you understand melanoma staging

Nurse talking with patient

Types of melanoma skin cancer and their signs

Superficial spreading melanoma

Superficial spreading melanomas typically have irregular borders and uneven pigmentation. This is the most common type of melanoma skin cancer.

Superficial spreading melanoma

Nodular Melanoma

Nodular melanomas typically present as a raised, nodular lesion with irregular patches of colour and an irregular border. They are most common on the head, back and chest and may bleed or ooze. Some nodular melanomas have no pigmentation.

Nodular melanoma

Lentigo Maligna Melanoma

Lentigo maligna melanomas begin flat and look like a large, dark freckle. They grow outwards and may change shape. They may then grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin and form a lump.

Lentigo Maligna Melanoma

Acral Lentiginous Melanoma

Acral lentiginous melanoma in the nail may appear as a streak in a nail – often brownish or black. This can form in the fingernails or toenails and most often develops in the thumb or big toe. As the cancer in the nail grows, the nail may become damaged. Most streaks in the nail are not cancerous, but it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible to get it checked.

On the palms or soles of the feet, acral lentiginous melanoma may be noticed by changes to a spot or mole. It could be an irregularly-shaped growth, that changes or is a different colour or present as a raised patch of thicker skin.

Acral lentiginous melanoma is a rarer form of melanoma where it is important to monitor the nails and palms and soles of the feet. Read more about it here.

Acral melanoma example

Amelanotic Melanoma

Amelanotic melanoma is a less common form of melanoma that has little or no colour.

These melanomas can be pink or red, and as they are not the typical brown or black colour, they can be difficult to diagnose.


More information on the types of melanoma

Amelanotic melanoma

Rare melanomas and their symptoms:


Mucosal melanoma:

There are here are several types of mucosal melanoma, including head and neck mucosal melanomas, anorectal mucosal melanomas, penile mucosal melanomas and vulvo-vaginal melanoma.

You can find out about the common symptoms related to each of these by clicking here.

Uveal melanoma:

Ocular or uveal melanoma is melanoma that occurs in the eye.  Similar to melanoma of the skin, these rare melanomas arise from the pigment cells in the eye called melanocytes.

You can find out about the possible symptoms related to the different types of uveal melanoma by clicking here.

doctor comforting patient