Malignant melanoma

The number of people with malignant melanoma has risen dramatically over the last 40 years. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK.

 

What is malignant melanoma?

Malignant melanoma is skin cancer. It’s more common in women than men, and your risk also increases as you get older. It develops from cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes make melanin, which gives skin its colour. Melanin also protects us from ultraviolet (UV) radiation which causes sunburn.

The most common type of melanoma is superficial spreading melanoma. When it starts, it spreads across the skin – not down into the lower layers. It is easier to treat if it’s caught early.

Other types include:

  • Nodular melanoma – this develops faster and grows downwards into lower layers of skin if it’s not treated. It usually starts as a new lump on the surface. It can bleed or ooze
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma – usually affects older people who have spent a lot of time outside in the past. It grows slowly over many years. It can form lumps later on
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma – this cancer is rare and usually develops on the palms and soles of darker skinned people
  • Amelanotic melanoma – another rare type. It can sometimes have no colour at all or be very pale

Most people are over 65 when it’s discovered, but it can also affect younger people. Melanoma can also spread to other areas in the body (metastasise).

What causes malignant melanoma?

The leading cause is UV radiation from being in the sun or using sunbeds. Other reasons include:

  • A family history of melanoma
  • A rare type of birthmark known as giant congenital melanocytic naevus
  • Exposing your skin to intense periods in the sun – for example, during a holiday
  • Having fair skin with fair or reddish hair so you burn easily
  • Having had melanoma or other cancer in the past – especially breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, leukaemia, some childhood cancers
  • Having reduced immunity
  • HIV
  • Moles – the more moles, the higher the risk
  • Other medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and sarcoidosis

What are the symptoms of malignant melanoma?

Your doctor will examine your skin for anything that looks abnormal. They may refer you to a skin specialist. Tests include:

Bleeds

Changes shape or colour

Gets bigger

Is painful or inflamed

Itches

Looks asymmetricle

Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have malignant melanoma, but it’s best to get them checked by a doctor. The sooner your cancer is detected, the better the chances of treating it successfully.

Tests and diagnosis

Your doctor will examine your skin for anything that looks abnormal. They may refer you to a skin specialist. Tests include:

  • Biopsy – removing all or part of the mole to check for signs of cancer
  • Dermoscopy – looking closely at your skin, using a kind of magnifying glass, and taking photographs to monitor any changes

In some cases, you may also have:

  • Scans including ultrasound, CT, MRI, PET-CT
  • Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy

Treatments we offer

Treatments depend on how advanced the melanoma is. At the early stages, melanoma can be treated with surgery alone. In advanced stages, treatment may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

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Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

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Radiotherapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

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Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

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Meet our doctors

Our-doctors

Everything we do is focused on designing better care for our patients. With a network of 12 specialist oncology treatment centres across the UK, we provide the most up-to-date treatments and technology as standard.

We attract and retain some of the most experienced doctors in the country, who all have a passion for improving patient outcomes and specialise in the treatment of different types of cancer.

Meet our doctors

Search for a centre near you

Birmingham

Little Aston Hall Drive, Sutton Coldfield, B74 3BF

+44 (0)121 353 3055

Bristol

300 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol, BS32 4SY

01454 456500

Cambridge

The Oaks, Fordham Road, Newmarket, CB8 7XN

+44 (0)1223 907 600

Chelmsford

Springfield Cancer Centre, Lawn Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 7GU

+44 (0)1245 987 901

Cromwell Hospital

164-178 Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London SW5 0TU, UK

020 7460 5626

Elstree

Unit 710, Centennial Park, Centennial Avenue, Elstree, Borehamwood, WD6 3SZ

+44 (0)208 236 9040

Guildford

BMI St Martha Oncology Centre, 46 Harvey Road, Guildford, GU1 3LX

+44 (0)1483 806 000

Maidstone

17 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, West Malling, ME19 4UA

+44 (0)1732 207 000

Milton Keynes

Sunrise Parkway, Linford Wood East, Milton Keynes, MK14 6LS

+44 (0)1908 467 700

Nottingham

The Park Centre for oncology, Sherwood Lodge Drive, Burntstump Country Park, Nottingham, NG5 8RX

+44 (0)115 966 2250

Oxford

Sandy Lane West, Peters Way, Oxford, OX4 6LB

+44 (0)1865 237 700

Portsmouth

Bartons Road, Havant, PO9 5NA

+44 (0)23 9248 4992

Southampton

Spire Hospital, Chalybeate Close, Southampton, SO16 6UY

+44 (0)238 076 4961

Windsor

69 Alma Road, Windsor, SL4 3HD

+44 (0)1753 418 444