What is melanoma?

Topical information of a practical nature for melanoma patients

About Melanoma

Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells: cells which make melanin which is responsible in part for skin colour and for protecting the skin from damage from
the sun.

Although all melanomas are cancers, most melanomas are removed early and are entirely cured by that surgery. Some countries use the term “malignant melanoma” but the word malignant means cancer and in the UK then “malignant” is thought unecessary and “melanoma” alone is used.

There are different types of melanoma

Melanomas most frequently grow on skin which is often or occasionally exposed to the sun. More rarely melanoma can develop in areas of the body which are not usually exposed to the sun. These body sites are:

  • In the eye (note that MyMelanoma will not currently be carrying out research on melanoma of the eye, as it behaves quite differently to melanoma arising in other sites).
  • On the sole of the foot (acral lentiginous melanoma) or under the nail (subungual melanoma).
  • On the penis, or vulva, or very rarely in the vagina or cervix.
  • On wet mucosal surfaces eg in the mouth, nose or sinuses.

These rare types of melanoma occur all over the world, in people of all skin colours and types. In any one country, the number of patients with these rare types of melanoma is small so that in order to make real progress in research we need to work together to make a difference. We hope that MyMelanoma will play a role here by recruiting more patients to the study than is possible within any single area of the country.

Learn about the MyMelanoma study, eligibility criteria and more

What causes melanoma?

Melanoma arising on sun exposed sites can be caused by damage to melanocyte cells in the skin prompted by ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun. This damage particularly affects the DNA of cells and causes them to behave unusually, which can lead to the development of a melanoma. Some people are more prone to developing this kind of melanoma, due to genetic changes that they were born with. This might also mean other family members have also developed a melanoma or other related cancers. This is something MyMelanoma will be researching in more detail.

The reasons melanomas arise on non-sun exposed sites is less well understood, but it is thought that potentially chemical or mechanical damage might increased the chances of a melanoma occurring in these locations. MyMelanoma will be specifically asking questions to help better understand why this type of melanoma occurs.

Living with melanoma

What changes should I make to my lifestyle?

Even though overall the survival rate for having a melanoma is high, 20% of all cases can relapse. Some patients are keen to know what changes they can make to their lifestyle to help avoid this scenario and to live healthier lives. We do have some evidence that lifestyle has an effect.

Familial risk of melanoma

Families with an increased risk of melanoma

In approximately 5% of melanoma patients, the melanoma has occurred as a result of inherited high risk genetic mutations which increase the risk of melanoma. These families typically have 3 or more melanomas in the family especially if the people with melanoma have had more than one cancer.

Questions patients have asked

Do you have a question? As questions come in we will ask if others would like to ask the same question. If there is a perceived need then the MyMelanoma Team will look to see whether there is sufficient evidence to be found to take a “Personal View”. That is that the team will review the evidence, and publish a sensible summary. If there is insufficient evidence (as there well may be) then we will write that this is so but if appropriate we will ask a number of international experts to say what their view might be.

MyMelanoma, for example, plans to write a summary of the data on diet and melanoma in 2021, describing evidence to date that it might be important, stressing the unknowns, and then seeking comments or “personal views” from experts in the field. We might ask them “what do you tell your patients” or “what would you do, and why?”


MyMelanoma will only be able to deliver life changing improvements to patient care with your help. There are many ways to get involved in contributing to the largest study of its kind from participating in the study, or helping us raise funds.

Our research

MyMelanoma is a study designed to research the most important current questions about melanoma and its treatment. These questions relate to treatments, the nature of the particular cancers (all cancers are a little bit different), other health matters and to lifestyles.

Contact us

To sign up to be part of MyMelanoma or if you have any further questions for us then please fill out the form. One of our team will be in touch as soon as possible.

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