Skin cancer (melanoma)

In Northern Ireland in 2017, 344 people were diagnosed with melanoma cancer. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15–34, however, like most cancers, it’s also common in older people. The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful.

People with black or brown skin are much less likely than people with white skin to get melanoma. This is because their skin has more natural protection against it.

In women, the most common place to develop melanoma is on the legs. In men, it’s on the chest and the back. Using a sunbed before the age of 35 years can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Signs to look out for include a mole that is:

  • getting bigger;
  • changing shape;
  • changing colour;
  • bleeding or becoming crusty;
  • itchy or painful.

About half of all melanomas start with a change in previously normal-looking skin. This usually looks like a dark area or an abnormal new mole. Other melanomas develop from a mole or freckle that you already have. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a melanoma and a normal mole.

An ‘ABCDE’ checklist has been developed to help people to tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma. 

A - Asymmetry

  • melanomas are likely to be an irregular shape or asymmetrical (not symmetrical);
  • ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same).

B - Border

  • melanomas are more likely to have a blurred or irregular border with jagged edges;
  • ordinary moles usually have a well-defined, clear, smooth-edged border.

C – Colour

  • melanomas tend to be more than one colour;
  • they may have different shades, such as brown mixed with a black, red, pink, white or blue tint;
  • normal moles tend to be one shade of brown.

D – Diameter (width)

  • melanomas are usually more than 7mm wide;
  • normal moles are not usually bigger than the blunt end of a pencil.

E – Evolving (changing)

  • if you notice any changes to a mole, for example in the size, shape or colour, you should visit your GP.

Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you have:

  • any of the ABCDE signs;
  • any unusual marks on the skin that last for more than a few weeks;
  • a mole that tingles or itches;
  • crusting or bleeding of a mole;
  • something growing under a nail or a new dark-coloured stripe along part of the nail.


There are a number of websites that provide information relating to melanoma cancer, these include:

This is not an exhaustive list and other sources of support in Northern Ireland can also be accessed via Northern Ireland Cancer Network.


Sunbeds: look a little deeper