Which clinical history findings are characteristic of cutaneous melanoma?

Updated: Oct 13, 2020
  • Author: Susan M Swetter, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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A new or changing mole or blemish is the most common warning sign for melanoma. Variation in color and/or an increase in diameter, height, or asymmetry of borders of a pigmented lesion are noted by the majority of patients with melanoma at the time of diagnosis. Symptoms such as bleeding, itching, ulceration, and pain in a pigmented lesion are less common but warrant an evaluation. Again, because the majority of cutaneous melanoma arises de novo (ie, on normal-appearing skin and not in association with a precursor nevus), routine sampling or mass removal of stable-appearing melanocytic nevi is not warranted for melanoma prevention. However, individuals with numerous moles (common or atypical/dysplastic) or a family history of melanoma are at increased risk of developing melanoma and should be educated regarding the importance of skin self-examination for early detection.

A total-body skin examination is critical when evaluating a patient at risk for melanoma, particularly those with increased mole count, presence of clinical atypical nevi, prior nonmelanoma skin cancer, and/or strong family history of melanoma. Multiple studies have demonstrated that thinner melanomas are associated with physician detection during routine skin or physical examinations, compared with patient detection of melanoma when a lesion changes or becomes symptomatic. [38]

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