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What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

How melanoma looks can vary greatly. If you have lots of moles, a melanoma usually stands out and looks different from other moles. The first sign is often a new spot or a change in an existing mole:

  • size – the spot may appear, or begin to grow larger
  • colour – the spot may become blotchy with different depths and shades of colour (often brown or black, but about 20% of melanomas are “amelanotic” and appear as red, white, light grey, pink or the colour of your skin)
  • shape or border – the spot may increase in height, become scaly, have an irregular shape (scalloped or notched) or not be symmetrical (the halves may look different)
  • itching or bleeding – the spot may itch or bleed very easily
  • elevation – the spot may start as a raised nodule or develop a raised area, which is often reddish or reddish brown.

New moles mostly appear during childhood and through to the 30s and 40s, as well as during pregnancy. However, adults of any age can have new or changing spots. It is important to get to know your skin and check it regularly. In a room with good light, fully undress and use a full-length mirror to check your whole body. For areas that are hard to see, use a handheld mirror or ask someone to help.

Look for spots that are new, different from other spots, or raised, firm and growing. Even if your doctor has said a spot is benign in the past, check for any changes in shape, size or colour. If you notice a new or changing spot, ask your doctor to examine it. 

Which health professionals will I see?

You will probably start by seeing your general practitioner (GP). Some people choose to go to skin cancer clinics, which are often operated by GPs with an interest in skin cancer.

If a GP diagnoses or suspects melanoma, they will usually refer you to a specialist, such as a dermatologist or surgeon. The specialist will arrange further tests and consider the treatment options. These options may be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting.

During and after treatment, you may see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care, especially if the melanoma has a Breslow thickness greater than 1 mm or if it has spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma units

Some people are treated in specialist melanoma units located at hospitals in major cities around Australia. Your GP is most likely to refer you to one of these units if the melanoma is considered high risk (based on the Breslow thickness).

In a specialist melanoma unit, you will be able to talk to one or more medical specialists from the multidisciplinary team. They will answer your questions and recommend the most suitable treatment pathway based on your test results.

To find a specialist melanoma unit near you, check with your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20. Melanoma Patients Australia also provides a list of specialist units.

Health professionals you may see

GPchecks skin for suspicious spots, may remove potential skin cancers and refer you to specialists
dermatologistdiagnoses, treats and manages skin conditions, including skin cancer
general surgeonperforms surgery to remove early melanoma and lymph nodes, and to reconstruct the skin
reconstructive (plastic) surgeonperforms surgery that restores, repairs or reconstructs the body’s appearance and function; may also remove lymph nodes
surgical oncologistperforms surgery to remove melanoma and conducts more complex surgery on the lymph nodes and other organs; can be a general surgeon or a reconstructive surgeon
medical oncologisttreats melanoma with drug therapies such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy
radiation oncologistplans and oversees radiation therapy
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates care, liaises with MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
counsellor, social worker, psychologisthelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
physiotherapist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical issues, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment
palliative care specialist and nursework closely with the GP and cancer specialists to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed January 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Robyn Saw, Surgical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Prof Bryan Burmeister, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare Fraser Coast and Hervey Bay Hospital, QLD; Tamara Dawson, Consumer, Melanoma & Skin Cancer Advocacy Network; Prof Georgina Long, Co-Medical Director, Melanoma Institute Australia, and Chair, Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Alexander Menzies, Medical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore and Mater Hospitals, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Paige Preston, Chair, Cancer Council’s National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia; Prof H Peter Soyer, Chair in Dermatology and Director, Dermatology Research Centre, The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, and Director, Dermatology Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Julie Teraci, Clinical Nurse Consultant and Coordinator, WA Kirkbride Melanoma Advisory Service, WA.