About the condition
Melanoma is a relatively rare form of skin cancer, but is becoming more common. There are currently around 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15-34.
Melanoma occurs when the genetic material of cells in the skin become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the skin and move to other parts of the body. Certain things are believed to increase your chances of developing all types of skin cancer, including having pale skin that does not tan easily, having red or blonde hair, having blue eyes and entering old age. Other risk factors can be found here.
The first sign of a melanoma is often a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole. Normal moles are usually round or oval, with a smooth edge, and no bigger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter. See your GP as soon as possible if you notice changes in a mole, freckle or patch of skin, especially if the changes happen over a few weeks or months.
Signs to look out for include a mole that is:
- getting bigger
- changing shape
- changing colour
- bleeding or becoming crusty
- itchy or painful
Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but they most commonly appear on the back, legs, arms and face. They may sometimes develop underneath a nail. If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once. Alternatively you can book an appointment with one of our specialists by completing this form online or by calling 020 8247 3351.
If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Because melanoma is a relatively rare cancer, there are a number of different tests needed to confirm a diagnosis. These include:
- A physical examination of the affected area and surrounding area
- A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination
- A Sentinel Lymph Node biopsy, a test to determine whether microscopic amounts of melanoma might have spread to the lymph nodes
- A Computerised Tomography scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
- A Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan, a procedure that uses radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
- PET – Positron Emission Tomography
Health professionals use a staging system to describe how far melanoma has grown into the skin (the thickness) and whether it has spread. The type of treatment you receive will depend on what stage the melanoma has reached.
The stages of melanoma can be described as:
- Stage 0 – the melanoma is on the surface of the skin.
- Stage 1 – the melanoma is less than 2mm thick.
- Stage 2 – the melanoma is between 2 and 4mm thick, or thicker
- Stage 3 – the melanoma has spread into nearby lymph nodes or lymphatic channels
- Stage 4 – the melanoma cells have spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs, brain or other parts of the skin
Each stage consists of several subtle, technical stages, which can best be described to you by your doctor.
At CCL, patients with malignant melanoma are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Treatment options include:
- Surgery, to remove the affected area, and potentially nearby lymph nodes depending on the stage of the cancer
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, where chemical agents destroy the cancer cells preventing them from spreading to different areas.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. Because any scarring you may get after treatment is external and visible, you may develop concerns about self-esteem, body image and recurrence. We are here to offer you all the support you need.
Our support services include counselling, group sessions and much more. You can find the full range of our support services here. We’ll be with you every step of the way.
If you have any questions about cancer or would like to book an appointment with one of our specialists, complete this form online or call 020 8247 3351.