Melanoma is external and potentially detectable by many persons but little is known about who first discovers these lesions. An understanding of discovery patterns can shape future public and professional education programs. Our purpose was to assess patterns of melanoma discovery and to determine the patients' role in finding their own lesions. With a written, mailed questionnaire, we conducted a population-based statewide survey of 216 incident cases of melanoma in Massachusetts. Approximately half (53%) of melanomas were self-discovered, whereas the remainder were detected by medical providers (26%), family members (17%), and others (3%). Nearly one third of persons said they could not see their own lesions easily. Compared with men, women were more likely to discover their own lesions (66% vs 42%, p = 0.001) and those on their spouses (23% vs 2%, p less than 0.001). Improving early detection and reducing mortality of melanoma will require both public and professional education programs, with particular emphasis on targeting men at highest risk of this disease.