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What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that arises in melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells in the skin that produce pigment (melanin) that gives the skin its color.

Learn more about melanoma.

Anatomy of the skin, showing the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. Melanocytes are in the layer of basal cells at the deepest part of the epidermis.

Layers of the Skin


The layers of the skin include epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. Melanocytes are in the layer of basal cells at the deepest part of the epidermis.

Our Experts

Our team of skin cancer specialists provide world-class care to patients with melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Skin Cancers Program offers unparalleled expertise, innovation, and compassionate care for all types of skin cancer and conditions. We use a multidisciplinary team approach to serve our patients. Together, we review each case, coordinate treatment, and plan follow-up care. As the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West, we are committed to ensuring our patients heal as quickly as possible by using the most advanced treatment methods. 

Treatment for melanoma may include several providers:

  • Medical doctors, surgeons, and radiation specialists
  • Diagnostic providers, including pathologists and radiologists
  • Nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists

Getting a Second Opinion

All individuals can benefit from getting a second opinion from one of our skin cancer specialists. Make an appointment online today or call 801-587-7000.

Find a Skin Cancer Specialist

Treatment of Melanoma

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient receives depends on the stage of the melanoma, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy (for example, if your tumor has a BRaf mutation)
  • Immunotherapy
  • Clinical trials testing new therapies

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials at Huntsman Cancer Institute test new ways to diagnose, treat, and manage skin cancers and melanoma. Our dedication to our patients means we are continuously striving to find new therapies to alleviate symptoms and minimize side effects of melanoma treatments.

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk. Protecting your skin is an important part of skin cancer prevention.

The chances of getting melanoma increase with sun exposure.
Sunburn on back of neck

Other Risk Factors

  • Personal history of melanoma
  • Family history of melanoma or unusual moles (atypical nevus syndrome)
  • Having sunburns that blistered, especially as a child or teenager
  • Prior use of tanning beds
  • Having more than 50 moles
  • Unusual moles (very large or irregular shapes)
  • Fair skin
  • Red hair and blue, green, grey, or light-colored eyes
  • Having a weakened immune system, including:
    • Those who have organ transplants and are on immune-suppressing medications
    • Patients with metastatic cancer
    • Individuals actively in treatment for cancer

Learn more about ways to prevent skin cancer and about cancer screenings.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of melanoma:

  • New sores or lesions that may look like a mole but are changing rapidly in appearance
  • A mole with any of these features:

Asymmetry or lopsidedness

Irregular or jagged borders

More than one color (for example, brown and black or multiple shades of brown)

Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm)

Changing in appearance over a few months

Any symptoms such as crusting, bleeding, or itching

Most moles are benign and do not dramatically change appearance in adults. However, rarely a mole can become melanoma. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about melanoma from the National Cancer Institute.

Diagnosis & Stages

Screening & Diagnosis of Melanoma

Screening looks for cancer before you have symptoms. Screening can also check for anything unusual if you notice changes in your skin. Screening can rule out an issue or help find cancer at an early stage, when it may be easier to treat.

Doctors use these tests to screen for and diagnose melanoma:

Skin Exam

A healthcare provider checks for moles, birthmarks, or other areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.

Mole Mapping

Mole mapping uses high-resolution photographs to take an inventory of all lesions on your body. Mole mapping pictures provide a way to track changes on your skin if you have many unusual moles or if you have a history of skin cancer.

Learn more about mole mapping services.


The health care provider removes a tissue sample that can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Read more information about a new diagnosis of melanoma.

Stages of Melanoma

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread within or around the skin or to other parts of the body. The cancer spreads in the body in three ways, through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

There are multiple stages of melanoma:

  • Stage 0 (melanoma in situ): Malignant cells are confined to the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and have not invaded the deeper levels of the skin.
  • Stage 1 (1A & 1B): Malignant cells have not invaded greater than 2 millimeters below the surface of the skin.
  • Stage 2 (2A , 2B, & 2C): Malignant cells have invaded greater than 2 but less than 4 millimeters below the surface of the skin.
  • Stage 3: Malignant cells, regardless of the depth of invasion or ulceration, have spread to the lymph nodes or have made smaller tumors near the primary tumor.
  • Stage 4: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if melanoma spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are melanoma cells. The disease is metastatic melanoma, not bone cancer.

Learn more about the stages of melanoma from the National Cancer Institute.

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