Mucosal melanoma

Mucosal melanoma is a rare form of melanoma that occurs in mucous membranes. These are the moist surfaces that line the cavities within our body. Melanomas that appear on mucous membranes and the skin (cutaneous melanoma) start when melanocytes turn cancerous. Apart from this shared origin, mucosal melanoma and skin melanoma differ substantially in their behaviour and biology.

For example, a known risk for developing skin melanoma is a history of exposure to the sun, especially during childhood. However, this does not increase the risk of mucosal melanoma. In fact, there are presently no risk factors, including family (genetic) susceptibility, or environmental causes like UVB exposure that can be linked to mucosal melanoma in research studies.

Mucosal melanomas can also be more complicated to treat than skin melanomas. One significant reason for this is they are often diagnosed at a later stage. They tend to occur in less visible places and are not always pigmented (darker), which makes them even more difficult to spot.

Doctor talking with patient

Types and locations of mucosal melanomas

There are several types of mucosal melanoma and we have produced dedicated guides for patients and carers on the signs, symptoms, diagnosis, staging and treatment of them that you can access below. Please note that we have separate resources for uveal melanoma (melanoma of the eye).

Below you’ll find guides covering:

  • Head and Neck mucosal melanomas
  • Anorectal mucosal melanoma
  • Penile mucosal melanoma
  • Vulvo-vaginal mucosal melanoma


Head and Neck mucosal melanomas

The most common types of mucosal melanoma occur in the head and neck region and can be found in the following locations:

  • Oral mucosal melanoma – These arise in the oral cavity in the mouth
  • Sinonasal mucosal melanoma – These occur in the nasal passages of the nose
  • Pharngeal/ laryngeal mucosal melanoma – This is the least common melanoma found in the head and neck, and affects the throat

The signs, symptoms of the different types of head and neck mucosal melanoma vary and are often associated with lots of other minor conditions. An example is a nose bleed that has not stopped after 3 weeks, or a single blocked nostril that does not improve with sinus drops, in the case of sinonasal mucosal melanoma. They rely on your GP eliminating the many other harmless causes of these symptom

Subsequently, you may be referred to a head and neck clinic that deals with mucosal melanoma. For further information on head and neck melanoma access our our dedicated web resources and guide.

Anorectal mucosal melanoma

This type of mucosal melanoma affects the areas in and around the anus, or the rectal cavity. It is very rare and the signs and symptoms of anorectal mucosal melanoma are similar to other cancers in the bowel or colon area. They can include bleeding from the rectum (back passage), pain, swelling or a lump. You may feel an urgent need to empty your bowels, although you may not be able to. Your GP may refer you to a colorectal surgeon.

For further information on anorectal mucosal melanoma, including diagnosis and treatment access our dedicated web resources and guide.

Penile mucosal melanoma

This kind of mucosal melanoma affects the glans, foreskin, shaft or urethral meatus (gap between the urethra and tip) of the penis. It is the most rare form of mucosal melanoma. Symptoms can be similar to other forms of cancer in this area. These can include bleeding, pain, unusual discharge, difficulty urinating (passing water), a swelling, lump or ulcer. The area may be pigmented (darker), but this is not always the case. For more information access our dedicated web resources and guide below.

Vulvo-vaginal mucosal melanoma

This sort of mucosal melanoma can occur in the vulva or vaginal area. The symptoms are similar to those associated with other cancers found in this area of the body. You may have a lump, a sore area and/or bleeding. You may have trouble urinating (passing water). As with skin melanomas, there may be an area which is pigmented (darker), but this is not always the case. For more information access our dedicated guide and resources below.