What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from the pigment cells in the skin (melanocytes). Melanoma usually occurs on parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun. However, it can also start in a part of the skin or another part of the body that has never been exposed to the sun, such as the nervous system, eye and mucous membrane (lining of the mouth and digestive tract).
Melanomas can vary greatly in the way they look, and can occur anywhere on the body. The first sign of skin cancer is usually a new spot or a change in an existing mole:
- Size – The spot may begin to get, or keep getting, larger.
- Colour – The mole may appear blotchy with a wide variety of colours, such as brown, black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
- Shape/border – An irregular edge (scalloped or notched) or lack of symmetry is a warning sign. That is, if a line was drawn through the middle of the mole, both halves would not match up. The spot may increase in height or become scaly.
- Itching or bleeding – A mole that itches from time to time or bleeds may indicate a change to melanoma.
- Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.
- More than 10,000 people are diagnosed in Australia each year.
- It is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women (10% of all cancer diagnoses).
- It is the most common type of cancer in young Australians aged 15-44 (20% of all cases).
- One in 19 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma before age 85.
The aim of this information is to help you understand about melanoma. We cannot advise you about the best treatment for you. You need to discuss this with your doctors. However, we hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you think about the questions you would like to ask your doctors or other health carers.