Malignant Melanoma (MM).

Malignant Melanoma is the least common but most serious form of skin cancer in the UK.  About 11,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year. The rate continues to rise in the UK.

Melanomas appear as pigmented patches on the skin. It is more common in women (particularly young women) but is most common in older age groups (like most cancers). Ultraviolet radiation (Sunlight and tanning lamps) causes damage to skin cells that may result in melanoma. The most common location for melanoma on men is the chest or back and in ladies on their legs. About 20% develop on the face, head and neck.

People with pale skin and fair hair are more likely to develop melanoma than dark skinned, dark haired individuals. Episodes of severe sunburn, particularly in childhood is associated with the development of melanoma.

Having a lot of moles (>100) is also a risk factor for developing malignant melanoma as is having a family history of melanoma.

Melanoma behaves in a more aggressive way than BCCs and SCCs and needs to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Malignant melanoma can spread around the body, even with relatively small lesions.

About half of melanomas develop from pre-existing moles: The other half appear as new pigmented areas or abnormal new moles.

The features to look for are:

  • Asymmetry - Melanomas are likely to be irregular or asymmetrical. Ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same).
  • Border - Melanomas are more likely to have an irregular border with jagged edges. Moles usually have a well-defined regular border.
  • Colour - Melanomas tend to have more than one colour. They may have different shades like brown mixed with black, red, pink, white or a bluish tint. Moles are usually one shade of brown.
  • Diameter - Melanomas are usually more than 7mm in diameter. Moles are normally no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil (about 6mm across).
  • Evolving (changing) - Look for changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole.

The important factor with melanoma is how thick (depth) the tumour has invaded and not the area (width). Thicker tumours can invade small blood vessels and lymphatic channels and be carried to other areas of the body.

The main treatment for melanoma is surgery. Depending of the thickness of the tumour - a varying amount of normal skin needs to be removed around the tumour to reduce the risk of recurrence / spread. This area or removed skin may be large enough to need reconstruction with skin flaps form the local area or skin grafts from another parts of your body.

There are currently no standard treatments for melanoma that has spread beyond its primary site (other than surgery) but many trials are running to look at the efficiency of different treatment regimes.

Examples of Malignant Melanoma (MM)

Malignant Melanoma of the Scalp (partially shaved)

Malignant Melanoma (Lentigo Maligna subtype) of cheek

Malignant Melanoma of the cheek.

Advanced melanoma of the ear.

MM of the Cheek