Signs and symptoms of advanced melanoma

Symptoms of advanced melanoma depend on where the melanoma has spread to in the body.

Symptoms of advanced melanoma can begin years after the original melanoma was removed. For some people the melanoma may be advanced when it is first diagnosed

A small number of people who have not had melanoma before may develop symptoms of secondary melanoma. They may have had no previous signs of melanoma and no abnormal-looking moles.

Melanoma can spread to any part of the body, but the most common areas in advanced melanoma are:


The lymph nodes

If the cancer spreads to lymph nodes, they may feel hard and swollen. Sometimes, these lymph nodes can press on tissues or nerves nearby, which may cause pain.


The skin

Secondary tumours in the skin, often appear as firm or hard lumps (nodules). They can sometimes appear as a flat grey or purple area.


The lungs

If melanoma spreads to the lungs, it may cause:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough that does not go away
  • pain in the chest
  • a build-up of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion).


The liver

Cancer cells that spread to the liver can cause:

  • swelling and discomfort in the liver area (right side of the tummy, under the ribs)
  • sickness (nausea)
  • loss of appetite
  • a build-up of fluid in the tummy area (ascites)
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).


The bones

If cancer spreads to the bones, it can cause bone pain and discomfort. Rarely, the first symptom may be a broken bone (fracture) after a minor injury. This happens because the bone is weaker due to the cancer.

Secondary cancer in the bones of the spine can put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord. This is called malignant spinal cord compression (MSCC).

The symptoms of MSCC may include:

  • back or neck pain
  • muscle weakness
  • numbness and weakness in the legs
  • problems with the bowel and bladder.

If you have any of these symptoms tell your doctor or specialist nurse straight away. If you cannot contact your specialist team, you should go to your local accident and emergency department straight away.

We have more information about the symptoms of MSCC.


The brain

Secondary cancer in the brain may cause headaches and sickness. These may be worse first thing in the morning. The cancer may affect an area of the brain that controls a certain part of the body. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • weakness in a limb
  • numbness
  • tingling or pins and needles.

Sometimes people have seizures (fits) or a change in their personality.


The digestive system

If the melanoma spreads to the digestive system, it can cause:

  • pain in the tummy (abdomen)
  • a change in bowel function (constipation or diarrhoea)
  • sickness (vomiting)
  • blood in or on your poo (stools)
  • unexplained tiredness caused by low red blood cells (anaemia).


General symptoms

The general symptoms of advanced melanoma can include:

  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling very tired (fatigued).

All the symptoms mentioned here can be caused by other, less serious conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to let your doctor know.

We understand that showing any symptoms of what could be melanoma is worrying. The most important thing is to speak to your GP as soon as possible. We're also here if you need someone to talk to. You can: