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. Sometimes a change to an existing mole or to normal skin is the first sign.

Other 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t go away.

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.

Symptoms of advanced melanoma

Symptoms of advanced melanoma can develop years after the original melanoma was diagnosed and removed. For some people, a change to an existing mole or freckle, or a change in normal-looking skin is the first sign. Tests then show that the melanoma has spread to another part of the body (secondary cancer), although there may not be obvious symptoms at this stage.

We have more information about the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma.

For a small number of people, tests may show that they have a secondary melanoma even if they have had no signs of a previous melanoma or an abnormal-looking mole.

The symptoms of advanced melanoma depend on which part(s) of your body the melanoma has spread to.

The lymph nodes

If the cancer spreads to lymph nodes distant from the original melanoma, 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, persistent coughing, pain in the chest or a collection of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion). We have more information on secondary cancer in the lungs, pleural effusions 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). This can cause sickness, loss of appetite, a build-up of fluid in the abdomen (ascites) and yellowing of your skin and eyes (jaundice). We have further information on secondary cancer in the liver.

The bones

If cancer spreads to the bones, it often causes 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. You may find our information on secondary cancer in the bone helpful.

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 sometimes causes symptoms such as weakness in a limb, numbness, tingling or pins and needles. Occasionally, people have seizures (fits) or a change in their personality. We have information about secondary cancer in the brain.

General symptoms

The general symptoms of advanced melanoma are also common. These include:

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

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

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.

How is it treated?

There are five main types of cancer treatment. You may receive one, or a combination of treatments, depending on your cancer type.