What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer that are named after the cells that are affected: squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and melanoma. Melanoma develops from the melanocytes (pigment cells).

Read more about the types of melanoma

Melanoma symptoms

Melanoma can vary greatly in the way it looks. The first sign 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 become increasingly blotchy with varying depth and shades of colour.
  • Shape or border – The spot may have an irregular edge (scalloped or notched) or lack of symmetry. 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 – The mole may itch or bleed at times.
  • Elevation – Melanomas may develop a raised area or may develop from the start as a raised nodule. Such raised areas are often reddish or reddish brown.

It is normal for new moles to appear and change during childhood and teenage years. However, all adults who develop a new mole should see their doctor to get it examined. Even if you have had a mole checked before and it was benign, keep an eye on it because it could change in the future. Talk to your doctor immediately about any changes.

Melanoma statistics

  • Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.
  • Over 12,500 people are estimated to be diagnosed with melanoma in Australia every year.
  • Melanoma is the third most common cancer in both men and women.
  • It accounts for 10% of all cancer diagnoses.
  • One in 18 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma before age 85.
  • It is the most common type of cancer in young Australians aged 15–29, making up more than 25% of all cancer cases in this age group.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. In men, it is more common on the trunk, whereas women get more melanomas on their legs.

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.