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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have a brown spot on my leg that seems to be getting bigger. How can I tell if it’s a skin cancer?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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February 14, 2014
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A brown-colored spot anywhere on the skin that’s getting larger is always something to be concerned about. Most brown spots on the skin turn out to be nothing serious. But some are melanoma — a skin cancer that can be fatal.

There are certain danger signs that increase the possibility that a brown spot is melanoma. It’s called the ABCDE rule.

  • Asymmetry: Does one side or half of the lesion look different from the other half? 
  • Border irregularities: Does it have an irregular border?
  • Color variation: Instead of being a consistent brown color, does it have some brown, some black, some red,   some gray, and some white parts?
  • Diameter: Is it 6 millimeters or more across? 
  • Evolving: Is it changing in size or color or shape?

The more of these five signs that it has, the more worrisome it is. You’ve said it’s getting larger (it meets the E criteria), so that’s one reason to worry. Have your doctor or a skin specialist look at it.

If it has any of the other ABCD danger signs, it’s even more important to have it checked out. If you catch a melanoma at an early stage, it can be removed before it has a chance to spread.

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