We have listed below the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we have had about melanoma. Unfortunately we are unable to answer your individual questions regarding diagnosis, treatment or prognosis of melanoma; if you do have any questions that are not covered below, or if you have a suspicious mole, please visit your GP.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in melanocytes. These are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its colour. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer; it can spread to other parts of the body through the lymph system or the blood and early diagnosis is vital.
What are the warning signs?
Melanoma can present itself as a mole, freckle or birthmark that changes in colour or increase in size or texture, bleeds or has a persistent itch. These changes are normally noticed over a period of several weeks or months rather than days. If this rings bells, book an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.
Who gets melanoma?
Any race or skin colour can get melanoma, however the most at risk are people with:
How does melanoma spread?
Melanoma grows deeper into the skin; the deeper it gets the more dangerous it becomes, which is why early detection is so important. As it progresses, cells break free and get into the tissue fluid channels (lymphatics) and are swept up to the ‘draining lymph nodes’ where the cells can take hold. These are sited in the groin, armpits and neck; the positioning of the melanoma will depend on which node will be affected.
Where does melanoma occur?
Although more common on the back, arms and legs, melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, including those areas not exposed to the sun. There are very rare forms of melanoma which can occur in the mouth, the retina, or an internal organ, without anything being visible on the skin.
How often do I need a check-up?
It is recommended that everyone should get their skin checked at least once a year by a professional and to make a habit of doing this regularly on a personal level (we recommend you have your back checked by someone else). If you are in a high risk category, you will need to increase this; your GP will advise you on this and may refer you to a specialised melanoma screening clinic.