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Melanoma develops from melanocytes that start to grow and divide more quickly than usual.
In melanoma, the melanocytes also start to spread into the surrounding surface layers of skin. When they grow out of control, they usually look like a dark spot or mole on your skin.
There are four main types of skin (cutaneous) melanoma:
Rarely, melanoma can start in parts of the body other than the skin. It can start in the eye (ocular melanoma|) or in the tissues that line the inside of the body, such as the nose, mouth, lung, and digestive tract (mucosal melanomas)
Melanoma is advanced when the cancerous cells have spread from the original melanoma to other parts of the body. When the cancer cells from a tumour spread to a different part of the body, they grow into new a cancer (known as a secondary cancer or metastasis). If melanoma spreads, it’s most likely to spread to one or more of the following parts of the body:
Some people are diagnosed with advanced melanoma when a melanoma has come back in another part of the body. This can sometimes be years after the original melanoma was first removed. In others, advanced melanoma is diagnosed when the melanoma is removed and further tests then show that it has spread.
Content last reviewed: 1 February 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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