Melanoma

Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts on the skin, often in a mole.

What does it feel like?

The first sign is usually a mole that gets bigger or changes its shape or colour. It might be itchy or painful, get red and swollen, or start bleeding. 

How is it diagnosed?

A specialist at hospital will remove the mole and look at it under a microscope. You will be given anaesthetic to make the area numb so you won’t feel anything.

The specialist will check how deep the melanoma has grown. This is because deeper melanomas could have spread to other parts of your body. If you have a deep melanoma, you might need to have more tests to find out whether the melanoma has spread. 

Will I need medicine and treatment?

If the mole has cancer cells, the specialists will want to make sure that it’s been removed completely so you might need another operation to get rid of all the abnormal cells. You will have an anaesthetic so that you don’t feel anything, or to make you go to sleep. 

If the melanoma has spread to other parts of your body, you might also need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. 

Chemotherapy is a special medicine to kill the cancer cells and radiotherapy uses invisible laser beams to destroy the cancer while you lie very still on a special bed.

What will treatment feel like?

After your surgery, you’ll probably be given some painkillers so that it doesn’t hurt. You might have changes to the part of your body where you had the operation and it’s common to have a scar, but they often fade over time.

Chemotherapy might make you feel more tired and poorly than usual. It can make you feel a bit sick, change how much you need the toilet and you might lose your hair while you’re on treatment. Radiotherapy can also make you feel unwell and can make your skin a bit red and sore where you are being treated. 

This all might sound a bit scary, but it is very normal and part of helping you get better.

If you are worried, you can talk to your nurse or doctor, or a family member – there are lots of different ways they can help you.

What will happen afterwards?

You will keep seeing your specialist regularly for months after your treatment. You and your family should keep an eye on your skin, and contact your specialist if you notice:

  • Changes in other moles
  • Dark, mole-like spots appearing near where your mole was removed
  • Swollen glands near where your mole was removed

Will I get ill again?

Once you have had a melanoma, your risk of having it again is higher than normal, so you should be very careful about being out in the sun - try to keep the area where the melanoma was out of the sun and make sure you wear a high factor sun cream!

Any other problems will depend on lots of different things but many people will not have any problems at all. The doctor will make sure you have all the help you need and is always there to talk about what is happening and answer any questions. 

Content updated October 2015, next planned review 2018.

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