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Checking your skin and nails

Early detection of melanoma is essential. Use our skin check leaflet to regularly monitor your moles and lesions

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Melanoma stages and treatment – Patient Guide

Our new guide helps you know what to expect before and after a melanoma diagnosis

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What is melanoma?

Elaine Vickers explains why melanoma occurs and how it differs from other skin cancers

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Sun safety and Sun beds

Find out how to stay safe while in the sun and how to avoid skin damage

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Types of melanoma

There are several different types of melanoma skin cancer and other rare forms of melanomas

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How is melanoma diagnosed?

Read our dedicated information about how melanoma is diagnosed

About Melanoma

How common is melanoma?

  • Melanoma is the UK’s most rapidly-increasing type of cancer, with around 16,202 new cases every year*
  • Melanoma is in the top 5 most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK*, **
  • In contrast to most cancer types, melanoma occurs relatively frequently at younger ages, from 15 upwards
  • Melanoma is the second and third most common cancer in males and females respectively, between 15-44 years of age in England
  • Recent figures indicate that 2,333 people die each year from malignant melanoma in the UK*
  • Men typically have a higher lifetime risk (1 in 36) of developing melanoma, than women (1 in 47)*

* Cancer Research UK stats – Date ranges 2013 -2018. See references
** Cancer registration statistics, England: final release, 2018.
Published 29 May 2020.

crowds of people

86% of melanomas are preventable (CRUK)

Causes

What causes melanoma?

Excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which comes from the sun, or sun beds, has been identified by researchers as the primary risk factor for developing melanoma. The back, head and neck or legs are the common locations for a lesion.

In addition, an individual’s likelihood of developing melanoma can also be influenced by many other factors, including:

  • Family history of melanoma
  • Certain genetic mutations
  • Skin pigment type (typically individuals with red hair colouration, fairer skin, or skin that burns and never tans are at higher risk)
  • Frequent sun burn
  • Increasing age (75+) that reflects accumulation of DNA damage
  • The presence of numerous moles or freckles
  • Autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can increase your chances of melanoma by 50%

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

The two most common signs of melanoma skin cancer are:

  • The appearance of a new mole or lesion on your body
  • A change in an existing mole or lesion (such as a change in shape, bleeding or itching).

If you have an early-stage melanoma (stage 1 or 2 melanoma), you are unlikely to feel unwell or have any additional symptoms other than the appearance of your mole or lesion. Contact your GP if you notice any changes or new lesions as most melanomas can be cured if caught at an early stage. If diagnosed with a later stage melanoma (stage 3 or 4) you may experience other symptoms.

Melanoma examples

What are the types of melanoma?

There are several types of melanoma. These include skin or cutaneous superficial spreading melanoma – which is the most common form in the UK. Other forms of melanoma include nodular, lentigo maligna, amelanotic, acral lentiginous melanoma and rare melanomas such as uveal (eye) and mucosal melanomas.

Relevant References:

*Cancer Research UK Melanoma Statistics https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/
melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Six [Accessed 2021]

*National Statistics: Cancer registration statistics, England: final release, 2018. Published 29 May 2020.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/cancer-registration-statistics-england-2018-final-release/cancer-registration-statistics-england-final-release-2018

Eunyoung Cho, et al., Risk Factors for Melanoma by Body Site. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev May 1 2005 (14) (5) 1241-1244; DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-04-0632

Landi MT, et al., Genome-wide association meta-analyses combining multiple risk phenotypes provide insights into the genetic architecture of cutaneous melanoma susceptibility. Nat Genet. 2020 May;52(5):494-504. doi: 10.1038/s41588-020-0611-8. Epub 2020 Apr 27. PMID: 32341527;

Khalesi M, et al., E. A meta-analysis of pigmentary characteristics, sun sensitivity, freckling and melanocytic nevi and risk of basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Cancer Epidemiol. 2013 Oct;37(5):534-43. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2013.05.008. Epub 2013 Jul 10. PMID: 23849507.

Olsen CM, Knight LL, Green AC. Risk of melanoma in people with HIV/AIDS in the pre- and post-HAART eras: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. PLoS One 2014;9(4):e95096.

Rastrelli M, Tropea S, Rossi CR, Alaibac M. Melanoma: epidemiology, risk factors, pathogenesis, diagnosis and classification. In Vivo. 2014 Nov-Dec;28(6):1005-11. PMID: 25398793.

Shain AH, Bastian BC. From melanocytes to melanomas. Nat Rev Cancer. 2016 Jun;16(6):345-58. doi: 10.1038/nrc.2016.37. Epub 2016 Apr 29.

Singh S, Nagpal SJ, Murad MH, et al. Inflammatory Bowel Disease Is Associated With an Increased Risk of Melanoma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013 doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2013.04.033.