About Melanoma

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Melanoma is a disease in which cancerous cells form in melanocytes (cells which color the skin).

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of melanoma:

  • A mole with any of these features:
    • Asymmetry or lopsidedness
    • Jagged or irregular borders
    • Extra-dark color or more than one color
    • Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm)
    • Evolving or changing
    • Oozing, bleeding, or with a hole in the skin that shows the tissue below, called ulceration
  • A change in pigmented (colored) skin
  • New moles that grow near an existing mole

Not all moles are melanomas. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about melanoma from the National Cancer Institute.

Image Showing Layers of the Skin

illustration of skin with 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.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has 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
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Skin Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of skin cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

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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.

The chance of getting melanoma increases with sun exposure. These are other risk factors:

  • A personal history of melanoma
  • A family history of melanoma or unusual moles (atypical nevus syndrome)
  • Having had sunburns that blistered, especially as a child or teenager
  • If you have several large or small moles
  • Being white
  • Having a weakened immune system

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

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 health care provider checks for moles, birthmarks, or other pigmented areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Melanoma

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

These are the stages used for melanoma:

  • Stage 0 (melanoma in situ): Tests find abnormal melanocytes which are not yet cancer, but may change.
  • Stage I (IA & IB): Cancer has formed, is no larger than 2 milimeters thick, and/or has ulceration.
  • Stage II (IIA , IIB, & IIC): Cancer is no larger than 4 millimeters and/or has ulceration.
  • Stage III: Any size cancer, with or without ulceration, that has spread to the lymph nodes or has smaller tumors near the primary tumor.
  • Stage IV: 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 actually melanoma cells. The disease is metastatic melanoma, not bone cancer.

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