Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma skin cancer develops in the cells that produce melanin, which are the cells that give skin its colour.

Last modified: February 28, 2022

Quick facts about melanoma skin cancerQuick facts

  • Australia and New Zealand, have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. In Australia, melanoma skin cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed
  • By the time you reach 85 years, you have a 1 in 13 chance of developing melanoma if you are male, and 1 in 21 if you are female

Types of melanoma skin cancerTypes of melanoma skin cancer

Types of melanoma skin cancer include:

Superficial spreading melanoma

This is the most common type of melanoma of the skin, which often spreads from a mole as a darkish pigment under the skin.

Nodular melanoma

This type of melanoma often spreads downwards quickly from the outer skin layer (epidermis) to the deeper skin layer (dermis).

Lentigo maligna melanoma

This type of melanoma appears as a darkish irregular patch and is the least common form of melanoma.

Acral lentiginous melanoma

This type of melanoma appears on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hand and looks like a dark bruise.

Signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancerSigns and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for melanoma can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive a melanoma diagnosis. 

The first sign you may notice is a new mole or one that changes in appearance:

  • Size – The mole may increase in size

  • Colour – The colour of the mole may change and become blotchy

  • Evolving – The mole may bleed or itch

  • Height – The mole may become raised

  • Border – The edges of the mole may become irregular or asymmetrical

Dark patches under the nails and the lining of the mouth, vagina or anus can also be a sign of melanoma.

Stages of melanoma skin cancerStages

Usually a biopsy will be performed to stage melanoma skin cancer, alongside other tests and investigations which help doctors understand what your cancer looks like. This may include:

  • Histopathology (tissue) staging – Analysis of the cells under a microscope
  • Clinical staging – Clinical examination of the lymph nodes
  • Imaging  – Body scans including CT, MRI and PET scans

This information helps determine the stage of your melanoma using the guidelines below:

Stage 0

The depth of the melanoma is less than 0.1mm.

Stage I

The depth of the melanoma is less than 2mm.

Stage II

The depth of the melanoma is greater than 2mm.

Stage III

The melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, to very small areas of nearby skin (satellite tumours), or more than 2cm away from the primary tumour within lymphatic vessels (in-transit metastases).

Stage IV

The melanoma has spread to distant areas of the body.

Treatment for melanoma skin cancer

There are many different types of treatment for melanoma skin cancer. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Skin cancer screening at Icon Cancer Centre

Icon Cancer Centre is proud to offer comprehensive skin cancer screening at select centres in NSW and VIC. For more information and to speak with our compassionate team, make an enquiry.

Learn more

Frequently asked questions about melanoma skin cancerFAQs

Is melanoma skin cancer hereditary?

Regardless of your skin type and family history, everyone is at risk of damage to the skin through sun exposure and developing skin cancer.

The risk of melanoma is increased where there is a history of melanoma in an immediate family member (first degree relative).

What causes melanoma skin cancer?

The main risk factor for melanoma skin cancer is damage to skin cells through exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. This includes periods of sunburn, particularly during childhood. Skin cells can also be damaged through exposure to artificial UV sources such as tanning beds. 

Other risk factors include:

  • Having a large number of moles or increased number of unusual moles
  • Fair skin
  • Freckles
  • Light eye and hair colour
  • A tendency for skin to burn rather than tan
  • Being immunosuppressed – If your natural immune system is weakened (known as being immunosuppressed), you are at an increased risk of developing skin cancers, particularly aggressive skin cancers.
  • Previous history of having melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers
How common is melanoma skin cancer?

Melanoma skin cancers are the fourth most common types of cancer diagnosed in Australia, with this incidence expected to increase in the future.

In 2021, it is estimated that there will be almost 17,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in Australia.

What can I do to decrease my risk of melanoma skin cancer?

There are numerous factors that can reduce your risk of developing melanoma skin cancers. These include:

  • Avoiding sun exposure – The main way to minimise your risk of melanoma skin cancer is to reduce your sun exposure as best as possible, including avoiding the sun during the hottest parts of the day.  If you can’t stay out of the sun, then it’s important to cover your exposed body areas as best as you can
  • Protect your skin with sunscreen – It is recommended that you wear SPF50+ sunscreen and apply this liberally and frequently while you are exposed to the sun. Applying sunscreen is encouraged as part of your daily ritual
  • Get regular skin cancer checks – Get your skin checked regularly by a doctor who specialises in skin cancer, particularly when you start to notice any sun damage or changes to your skin

Protecting your skin can reduce the number of cancers you get and the aggressiveness of these cancers. If you have previously had skin cancer, you are more likely to develop further skin cancers as you already have some level of sun damage.

When should I start getting skin cancer checks?

As we get older, it’s very common to start to develop signs of sun damage. This is why you should get your skin checked by a doctor that specialises in skin cancers. It is recommended that you have a skin cancer check once every 12 months, however this will depend on your individual circumstances. If you are showing signs of sun damage, your doctor may encourage you to get skin cancer checks more regularly.

Regardless of the level of sun damage or the type of skin cancer, the earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the better it can be treated and managed.

Where can I find out more about melanoma skin cancer screening?

If you notice any changes in your skin that resemble melanoma symptoms, we encourage you to make an appointment with a doctor who specialises in skin cancer.

At Icon, we are proud to offer the latest in skin cancer screening at several of our centres across Australia. Learn more.

To learn more about checking for signs of skin cancer, visit Cancer Council Australia.

Should you protect your eyes as well as your skin from the sun?

It’s important to protect all areas of your body from the sun, including your eyes. Unprotected sun exposure can result in burns to the eyes, just like the skin, leading to cancer of the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) or conjunctiva (thin layer that covers the front part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids) and increasing the risk of cataracts.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists endorse the following ways to protect your eyes from sun damage and related cancers.

Cancer Council Australia recommend using eye protection when the UV (ultraviolet) index is greater than 3 by:

  • Reducing exposure to UV sunlight (and other sources) as much as possible
  • Using wraparound sunglasses that meet the Australian & New Zealand Standards
  • Wearing a broad-rimmed or bucket hat to aid further UV protection
What about the benefits of sun exposure to our skin for vitamin D levels?

There is strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D is essential to strengthen bones and maintain skeletal health. While some vitamin D can be obtained from diet, our main source of vitamin D is from the sun.

Based on the position statement approved by the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Cancer Council Australia, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia, the following recommendations have been made for the general healthy population.

When the UV index* is below 3:

  • It isn’t recommended to use sun protection
  • It’s recommended to spend some time outside in the middle of the day on most days to help increase vitamin D production

When the UV index* is 3 or above:

  • It’s recommended to use sun protection in the form of wide brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and shade if you are going to be outside for more than a few minutes
  • In some places of Australia during the cooler months, the UV index may still exceed 3 in the middle of the day. It’s important to check the UV index specific to your location and use a combination of sun protection measures

*UV Index can be found on the Bureau of Meteorology website. The Cancer Council also have a free Sun Smart app for all smartphone users.

Are there clinical trials available for melanoma skin cancer that I can participate in?

Icon offers clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types and treatments. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor who will be able to find a trial that might be right for you and your cancer. 

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre. 


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council (2021) Melanoma. Retrieved on 24 November 2021 from
  2. Cancer Council (2021). What is Skin Cancer? Retrieved on 24 November 2021 from
  3. Australian Government: Cancer Australia (2020). Types of melanoma. Retrieved 24 November 2021 from
  4. Melanoma Institute Australia (2021). Stages of melanoma. Retrieved on 24 November 2021 from
  5. Australian Government: Cancer Australia (2020). Melanoma of the skin – statistics. Retrieved 24 November 2021 from
View all


Contact us
Become a patient