- Information & Support
- What is Melanoma?
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the UK’s most rapidly-increasing type of cancer, with around 16,202 new cases every year, that’s 44 every day (2015-2017). It is becoming more and more common in the UK, where it is the 5th most common cancer – with more women than men affected.
The incidence is related to age, however, in contrast to most cancer types, melanoma also occurs relatively frequently at younger ages and there is a large increase in incidence (7-8 fold) in the 15-24 year age group.
Ultraviolet radiation, which comes from the sun or from sunbeds, is an important factor that increases the risk of developing melanoma, but some people are inherently more at risk of getting melanoma than others. Cancer Research UK reports that 2,333 people died from malignant melanoma in the UK every year (2016-2018).
How is melanoma diagnosed?
A diagnosis of melanoma will usually begin with an examination of your skin. You can use our skin check leaflet to help you monitor your moles and speak to your GP if you notice any changes.
Your GP or a specialist dermatologist may take digital photos of your mole or lesion and may use a dermatoscope, a type of magnifying tool, to enable them to view view deeper layers of the skin.
If a skin lesion or mole appears suspicious, it may be removed or a biopsy taken for further evaluation. This is usually done with a local anesthetic, so you shouldn’t feel any pain.
If melanoma is confirmed, you may require further tests and treatment.
For cutaneous melanoma, our Patient Decision Aid provides supportive information, designed to help you and your family understand the options for treatment.
What are the types of melanoma?
Superficial Spreading Melanoma
This is the most common type of melanoma in the UK and superficial spreading melanoma is most common in people with pale skin and freckles. This type of melanoma initial grows superficially, spreading outwards on the skin. However they may then grow downwards, reaching deeper layers of skin and posing a threat of spreading.
Superficial spreading melanomas typically have irregular borders and uneven pigmentation. Visit your GP if you have a mole or lesion that grows or changes shape.
You can use our skin check leaflet to help you monitor your moles and track any changes.
This type of melanoma develops more rapidly and quickily grow vertically downwards into the deeper layers of skin.
Nodular melanomas typically present as a raised, nodular lesion with irregular patches of colour and an irregular border. They are most common on the head, back and chest and may bleed or ooze. Some nodular melanomas have no pigmentation.
Lentigo Maligna Melanoma
Lentigo maligna melanomas are most common in older people who have spent a lot of time outdoors and in the sun. They develop over several years in areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, head and neck.
Lentigo maligna melanomas begin flat and look like a large, dark freckle. They grow outwards and may change shape. They may then grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin and form a lump.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma
Acral lentiginous melanomas are rare and form on the palms, soles of feet and around the nail.
Acral lentiginous melanomas are most common in people with dark skin, but they can occur in any skin colour.
Rare Forms of Melanoma
Other rare forms of melanoma include mucosal and ocular or uveal melanoma.
Mucosal melanoma is a rare type of melanoma that occurs on mucosal surfaces, such as the nasal passages, sinuses, oral cavity, anus and vagina.
Ocular or uveal melanoma is melanoma that occurs in the eye. Similar to melanoma of the skin, these rare melanomas arise from the pigment cells in the eye called melanocytes.
Questions about melanoma?
Our melanoma helpline nurses are available to help.