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How to Identify Melanoma

The ABCDEs of early melanoma detection


Dr. Stephen Lewellis, Aspirus Board Certified Dermatologist

Since 1995, the American Academy of Dermatology has designated the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday, officially kicking off Skin Cancer Awareness Month.


During this time, people around the world raise awareness of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, and encourage people to examine their skin for suspicious spots.


Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs when the pigment producing cells in the skin called melanocytes replicates too fast and becomes cancerous.


According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is one of the most deadly types of skin cancer because it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Some types of melanomas can develop and spread within weeks, while others can span over a decade.


Melanoma can occur within a pre-existing mole, but it can also occur on a new area of the skin.

Chronically sun-exposed areas are more likely to develop melanoma, but it can occur on any part of the body.


“Anyone can get melanoma but those with fair or less pigmented skin are at greater risk,” says Aspirus Board Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Stephen Lewellis. “The most preventable risk factor is chronic and accumulative sun exposure. Exposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or, even more dangerously, from a tanning bed, can cause changes in the skin cells that lead to melanoma.”


It's important for people to watch for any new moles, rapidly growing moles, or changes in moles or other spots on the skin.


Early detection plays a huge role in reducing the likelihood that melanoma will go to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.


To help protect yourself and your loved ones, keep in mind the ABCDEs of early melanoma detection.

  • A is for Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • B is for Border. The borders or edges of the mole are jagged, blurred, or irregular.
  • C is for Color. The mole has multiple colors. Grey, black, blue, or white spots amidst an otherwise brown spot are especially concerning.
  • D is for Diameter. The diameter of a mole is larger than a pencil eraser.
  • E is for Evolution. The mole is changing in appearance over time.

“The biggest thing you can do to prevent melanoma is to protect your skin from the sun,” says Dr. Lewellis. “I recommend at least SPF 30, broad spectrum sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. People can also wear sun protective clothing and seek shade during certain times of the day when the sun is at its peak, around 10am to 2pm.”


Skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early. If you notice any new spots on your skin, any spots that look different from others, or anything that is changing, itching, or bleeding, seek the help of a board-certified dermatologist.


To schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist, visit


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