What is advanced melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from cells called melanocytes. These cells give our skin its colour.

We have more information on the different types of melanoma, causes, risk factors and staging.

Most melanomas can be successfully treated. However, sometimes melanoma can come back after treatment. This may be only a few months after treatment, but can sometimes be many years after the original melanoma was first removed.

Where does melanoma come back?

Melanoma can come back very close to where it first started (the original site). This could be in the skin (a local recurrence) or in nearby lymph nodes (a regional recurrence). It can also spread to other parts of the body. This is called advanced melanoma. Sometimes melanoma has spread when it is first diagnosed.

How does melanoma spread?

Melanoma cells may spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood. The lymphatic system is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels that connect to groups of lymph nodes throughout the body.

When cancer cells from a tumour spread to a different part of the body, they grow into a new cancer (called a secondary cancer or metastasis). A secondary cancer is always known by the area where it first started to grow (the primary site) and is treated as this type of cancer.

For example, a melanoma that starts in the skin may spread to the lungs. As the cancer in the lungs is made up of melanoma cells, it is called secondary or advanced melanoma. It is also treated as a melanoma.

In advanced melanoma, the cancer cells have spread to one or more of the following areas of the body:

  • lymph nodes far away from the original melanoma
  • areas of skin distant from the original melanoma
  • the lungs
  • the liver
  • the bones
  • the brain
  • the digestive system.

Back to Understanding advanced melanoma

The skin

The skin has many purposes. It is divided into two main layers, known as the epidermis and the dermis.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.