Melanoma – do I know what to look for?

Checking your own skin for potential cancers is really important as you are the person most likely to first detect melanoma. We are much better than we might think at detecting which moles are suspicious and require checking – and, ultimately, the responsibility for early detection rests with you. In fact SunSmart and the Cancer Council go as far as to say don’t simply rely on annual skin checks and really do stress the importance of self-skin examinations.

Studies show that melanomas are first discovered by the patient or their partner or family member 70%-80% of the time. The balance are first detected by doctors during a full body skin screening service or opportunistically during clinical examinations not related to skin cancer.

So it is clear that you play an important role in the early detection of skin cancer so remember to check yourself regularly. It’s your doctor’s job to diagnose skin cancer, but you need to first know when to get something checked.

Dr Tom Mulholland says it is very worthwhile doing regular skin checks of yourself and your loved ones.

“Back yourself and your instincts. The statistics show us that, in general, you’re actually pretty good at this,” Dr Tom says.

“Become familiar with your skin – including skin not normally exposed to the sun – and get it checked if you notice any change in shape, colour or size of a lesion – or the development of a new lesion.”

What does melanoma look like?

A cancerous mole or lesion can appear in a number of different shapes, forms and colours.

Melanoma ABCDEs

An easy way to approach your search for potential melanomas or other skin cancers is to use Melanoma New Zealand’s ABCDE system.Here’s what to look for:

ABCDE guide to melanoma signs and symptoms


Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole are not the same.


Border: The border, or edges, of the mole may not be an even one, but a blurred or ragged line.


Colour: The colour of the mole you are looking at is different throughout, perhaps with black, browns and tans. Some melanomas can also be white, grey, red, pink or blue in appearance.


Different: This mole may look completely different from other moles, spots or lesions on your skin, or that of the person you’re checking. According to Melanoma NZ, melanomas are normally bigger than the end of a pencil, or around 6mm.


Evolving: If a mole or skin lesion is changing in appearance, or looks clearly out of place, consider it suspicious.


It is important to note that not all melanoma lesions look or behave as outlined in the ABCDE system, but it is a good guide to start your regular self skin check habit.

Another recommendation is that you “SCAN” your skin to look for things that are Sore, Changing, Abnormal or New.

Personal mole mapping – for free – with the Firstcheck Skin App

Use your Firstcheck app as a tool when checking your skin to save photos of moles direct to your Firstcheck App – like a personal mole map at home, for free. This allows you to keep track of any changes over time.

Then use the Firstcheck App to send photos via your smartphone to a local skin specialist review any mole, lesion or skin spot that you are concerned about – e.g. new or changing moles. A case submitted to your local skin specialist will cost from just $19.95, and can be done from home with just a couple of clicks and a couple of pics.

It’s that simple and, most importantly, this quick and easy action could help you or a member of your family discover any problems early on, when treatment has the best chance of success.


So, the lesson here is that you can make a difference and that responsibility for early detection rests with you. So check your own skin in addition to your full body skin checks – and always get anything suspicious checked out asap. Adopt good skin check habits today.

Remember, if in doubt, check it out!

Click here to download your free Firstcheck Skin app today


The information in this brochure should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional. It is provided for general information purposes only.