Signs and symptoms

Advanced melanoma is cancer that has spread from the original melanoma to other parts of the body. The symptoms for advanced melanoma may not develop for many years after the original melanoma was removed.

Symptoms depend on where the cancer has spread to:

  • Lymph nodes – may feel hard and swollen
  • Skin – hard lumps may appear
  • Lungs – you may be breathless or have a cough that does not get better
  • Liver – you may feel pain in the right side of the tummy
  • Bones – you may have an ache in your bones
  • Brain – a headache that does not go away
  • Digestive system – you may have pain in your tummy, a change of bowel habit or sickness.

Some people may have general symptoms such as feeling very tired or generally unwell, or weight loss. All these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to see your doctor straight away.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of advanced melanoma can begin years after the original melanoma was diagnosed and removed.

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

Symptoms of advanced melanoma

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

The lymph nodes

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

The skin

If secondary tumours occur in the skin, they often appear as firm or hard lumps (nodules).

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).

We have more information on secondary cancer in the lungs, pleural effusion and coping with breathlessness.

The liver

Cancer cells that spread to the liver can cause:

swelling and discomfort in the liver area (the right hand side of the tummy, under the lower ribs)

  • sickness (nausea)
  • loss of appetite
  • a build-up of fluid in the tummy (ascites)
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

We have more information on secondary cancer in the liver and ascites.

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 weakness, pain, tingling or numbness in your legs, it is very important to tell your doctor or specialist nurse straight away so that your symptoms can be checked. The earlier MSCC is diagnosed, the better the chances are of treatment being effective. If you cannot contact your specialist team, you should attend your local accident and emergency department without delay.

We have more information about secondary cancer in the bone and MSCC.

The brain

Secondary cancer in the brain may cause headaches and sickness, which can often 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.

We have more information about secondary cancer in the brain.

The digestive system

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

  • pain in the tummy (abdomen)
  • a change in bowel habit (constipation or diarrhoea)
  • sickness (vomiting)
  • blood in or on your poo (stools)
  • unexplained tiredness.

General symptoms

The general symptoms of advanced melanoma can include:

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.

When I was brushing my hair, I felt a mole behind my ear that was never there before. My brother and sister suggested I go see my doctor, because it was quite big considering it was new.


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.