Pictures of Melanomas: Images, When to See a Doctor, and More

Medically Reviewed By Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH
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Melanoma can look different depending on factors such as the type and stage. Knowing the variations of what melanoma can look like can help you know when to seek medical help. This article has pictures of melanomas, according to their types. It also discusses what melanomas can look like, when to contact a doctor, and answers some frequently asked questions.

Superficial spreading melanoma

A close-up of a large mole on someone's leg.
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United

According to the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Health (NIH), superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma in people with light-toned skin. It may account for around 70% of all melanoma cases in people with light-toned skin.

Superficial spreading melanoma typically develops in a horizontal pattern on the skin. It can then spread vertically into the deeper layers of the skin.

It may appear as lesions that:

  • are flat or slightly elevated
  • are brown, with blue, black, or pink discoloration
  • have irregular or asymmetrical borders

Below are some example images of superficial spreading melanoma.

A medical image of superficial spreading melanoma.

Superficial melanoma can have black pigmentation and irregular borders.

Carl Washington, M.D., Emory Univ. School of Medicine; Mona Saraiya, MD, MPH/CDC

A medical image of superficial spreading melanoma.

A flat superficial spreading melanoma can be flat or raised with brown discoloration. It can also have asymmetrical or undefined borders.

jaojormami/Adobe Stock

Superficial spreading melanomas are usually bigger than 6 millimeters (mm) in diameter, but they can be different sizes.

They can appear on any part of the body’s surface. However, they are particularly common on the head, neck, and torso of people assigned male at birth. They are also common on the lower extremities of the body in people assigned female at birth, such as the calves.

Acral lentiginous melanoma

A medical image of acral lentiginous melanoma.
Photography courtesy of CDC/Carl Washington

Acral lentiginous melanomas are the most common type of melanoma in people with dark skin, contributing to as much as 70% of melanoma cases in Black people and as much as 46% in Asian people.

They typically occur on body areas such as the hands, feet, and around or underneath the nails.

Initial symptoms include a patch of skin with pigment that may vary from light to dark brown. The edges of this discoloration can appear angular. It may later develop nodules and dark or blue-to-black coloring.

Acral lentiginous melanoma normally grows or spreads extremely quickly.

Nodular melanoma

A medical image of nodular melanoma.
Nasekomoe/Shutterstock

Nodular melanomas account for around 15% of cases.

Nodular melanomas may become invasive soon after they first appear. This means that they may spread to other healthy areas of skin tissue relatively quickly.

They usually appear as dark brown-to-black papules, which are elevated, solid lesions or growths. They can sometimes appear dome-shaped.

Some nodular melanomas may be amelanotic. As a result, they may lack color.

See more nodular melanoma pictures.

Amelanotic melanoma

A medical image of amelanotic melanoma.
Reproduced with permission from ©DermNet NZ www.dermnetnz.org 2022

Amelanotic melanomas are rare.

They typically have no pigmentation or color, making them difficult to diagnose in some circumstances.

However, they can present other symptoms and changes in a growth that help identify them, such as changes in:

  • size
  • shape
  • borders
  • symmetry

Lentigo maligna melanoma

A medical image of lentigo maligna melanoma.
Reproduced with permission from ©DermNet NZ www.dermnetnz.org 2022

Lentigo maligna melanoma is also known as Hutchinson’s melanotic freckle. Lentigo maligna melanomas are another less common type of melanoma. They occur in around 5% of melanoma cases.

They usually appear in areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun.

Lentigo maligna melanomas may develop years before they become invasive and start to spread. Early lentigo maligna lesions may start as growths that are more than 30 mm in diameter.

After becoming invasive, they may then develop a dark brown-to-black color or cause a raised blue-to-black nodule to form.

Desmoplastic melanoma

A medical image of desmoplastic melanoma.
lev.studio/Shutterstock

This is a rare kind of melanoma that may have characteristics ranging from:

  • scar-like appearance
  • area of thickened skin
  • raised papule or plaque

Around half of desmoplastic melanomas are amelanotic. However, some desmoplastic melanomas have areas of darker colors.

According to the NIH, most desmoplastic growths occur on the head and neck of older adults. They are also particularly common in people with white skin and people assigned male at birth.

What does an early melanoma look like?

What early melanoma looks like can depend on the type of melanoma.

Generally, melanomas may first appear as small changes to an already existing growth. They can also start as a new growth or new skin changes.

Other types of melanoma

Some types of melanomas may not always be visible. Instead, they may cause changes or problems with the body part they affect. For example, eye melanoma may lead to problems with vision or the positioning of the eye.

Mucosal melanoma occurs inside the body along the mucus membranes, which line different body structures and organs. It can cause noticeable symptoms that vary depending on the body part it affects.

When to see a doctor

Contact a doctor for any changes to moles or growths you already have, or if you notice any new ones.

There are also methods to help you know when to contact a doctor regarding a growth.

Read more about what non-melanoma skin cancer may look like.

The “ABCDE” method

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using the “ABCDE” acronym to help remind you when to seek medical attention.

Contact your doctor promptly if you experience any one of the following features:

  • A for “asymmetry”: The growth is asymmetrical, or one half looks different to the other half.
  • B for “border”: The border of the growth is irregular, or the growth’s edges appear blurred, notched, or ragged. The pigment may look like it is spreading into the rest of the skin.
  • C for “color”: The growth has uneven coloring or multiple tones of different colors.
  • D for “diameter”: The growth has changed in size, become larger, or is bigger than 6 mm.
  • E for “evolving”: The mole has changed in appearance over the past weeks or months.

The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that the “D” can also stand for “dark.” They recommend contacting a doctor for any growth or lesion that is darker than others.

The “ugly duckling” method

The “ugly duckling” method suggests that most typical, noncancerous moles or growths on the body will resemble each other. As a result, contact a doctor for any growth or mark that looks different from your typical moles.

This method also helps monitor any irregularities or changes in growths on the skin.

The “CUBED” method

This method may be helpful for melanomas that do not always present as moles, growths, or papules, for example, acral lentiginous melanoma.

It is recommendable to contact a doctor promptly if you experience any of the following features of the CUBED acronym:

  • C for “color”: There is an unusually colored area of the skin that contains any different color within or around it.
  • U for “uncertain diagnosis”: There is no other clear, confirmed diagnosis to explain the symptoms.
  • B for “bleeding”: The affected area or lesion bleeds.
  • E for “enlargement”: The affected area or lesion gets bigger.
  • D for “delay”: The affected area does not heal within two months.

If you experience any of these symptoms or notice any skin changes, it is not advisable to wait for two months for healing to occur. Instead, try to contact a doctor as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Contact a doctor for any uncertainty or questions

It can be difficult to know whether a growth is benign or not, and melanomas can vary widely in how they appear. Not all melanomas fulfill the ABCDE criteria or other prompts.

Additionally, sometimes only a clinician can confirm the health of a growth.

As a result, it is recommended to contact your doctor any time you are unsure about a mole or growth, or have any questions.

Summary

Melanoma can vary in appearance based on the stage and type of melanoma growth. However, being familiar with pictures of melanoma skin cancer and what melanoma can look like may help you identify when to contact a doctor.

As melanoma can be hard to identify, contact your doctor regarding any changing, new, or unusual symptoms you notice on your skin. This can include growths such as moles. Changes to look out for can include differences in shape, size, color, border definition, and symmetry.

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Medical Reviewer: Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 24
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