What does melanoma look like?

Unusual moles, lumps, blemishes or sores, or changes in the way your skin looks or feels, may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer. Melanoma claims 2,000 Australian lives every year, and a skin cancer is diagnosed every minute in our sunburnt country, so it is very important for all Australians to get regular skin checks and monitor their own skin for signs of skin cancer.

Normal moles

A normal mole is usually an evenly coloured brown or black spot on the skin. It may be flat or raised, and generally less than 6 millimetres (about the width of a pencil eraser). Most moles appear at birth, during childhood or young adulthood. New moles appearing later in life should be checked by a doctor.

Once a mole has developed, it should stay the same size, shape and colour for many years, and may eventually fade away. Most moles are harmless, but it is very important to recognise changes that might suggest a melanoma or other skin cancer is developing.

Signs of melanoma

The most significant warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape or colour. Some melanomas also stand out as a spot that looks different from all the others on your skin - this is called the ugly duckling sign.

If you have a new, changing or stand-out mole, get it checked as soon as you can. Early detection of skin cancer offers the best chance of survival and successful treatment.

The ABCDE guide is handy for checking whether your moles are developing symptoms of melanoma. Monitor your skin and tell your doctor if you notice any of these signs:


Do the two halves of the lesion match if you draw a line through the middle?

Asymmetrical Symmetrical with matching halves


Are the borders smooth and even or do they have notched and
uneven edges?

Irregular borders Even borders


Does the lesion have one colour or a variety of colours?

Multiple colours Single colour


Is the lesion smaller or larger than a pencil eraser which is
approximately 6mm?

Bigger than 6mm Smaller than 6mm


Are there any changes in size, shape, colour, elevation or any other new
trait or symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting?

Other warning signs are:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Spread of colour from the border of a mole into the surrounding skin
  • Redness or swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump.

Be sure to show your doctor any areas of concern, and get regular skin checks.Learn more here about checking your skin for signs of skin cancer.