Melanoma is a rare and serious type of skin cancer that has the potential to spread to other organs in the body. The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole, a change in an existing mole or a mole that is different from the rest. This can happen anywhere on the body.

Melanoma is relatively rare, but it is becoming more common. There are currently almost 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK.

Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15-34 and is also responsible for most skin cancer deaths. More than 2,000 people die every year in the UK due to melanoma.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and more than one colour. They can sometimes be itchy or bleed and may also be raised and larger than normal moles.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and more than one colour. They can sometimes be itchy or bleed and may also be raised and larger than normal moles. An ‘ABCD checklist’ has been developed for people to tell the difference between a normal mole and a suspicious one.

A = Asymmetry in shape and / or colour

B = Border. Look around the edge of the mole. Melanoma will have an irregular or uneven border

C = Colour. Several different colours or shades of colour, or a single colour that is different to your other moles.

D = Dimension (changing dimensions or size). Melanoma can spread horizontal as a flat region or can grow vertically as a lump.

Melanoma can develop from the part of the skin where some cells begin to grow abnormally. The reason for this abnormal growth is unknown, although it is thought that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from natural or artificial sources may be partly responsible. Melanoma can run in families.

A number of factors can increase your chances of developing melanoma, such as having:

  • Pale skin that burns easily
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Lots of moles or freckles
  • A family member who has had melanoma

The main treatment for melanoma is surgery and if diagnosed and treated at an early stage, it is usually successful. However, you may need follow-up care to prevent melanoma recurring.

If melanoma isn’t diagnosed until an advanced stage, treatment is mainly used to slow the spread of the cancer and reduce symptoms. This usually involves medicines, such as chemotherapy.