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Symptoms of advanced melanoma

Find out about possible symptoms of advanced melanoma skin cancer and when to see your doctor. 

Advanced melanoma means the melanoma has spread from where it started to another part of the body.

General symptoms

The symptoms depend on where the cancer is in the body. They might include:

  • hard or swollen lymph nodes
  • hard lump on your skin
  • unexplained pain
  • feeling very tired or unwell
  • unexplained weight loss
  • yellowing of eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • build-up of fluid in your tummy (abdomen) - ascites

It might not mean that you have advanced cancer if you have these symptoms. Some symptoms can be caused by other conditions such as coughs, colds or muscle strain.

Tell your doctor or specialist nurse if you're worried about a symptom or if it continues for more than a few days.

Where melanoma spreads

Melanoma can spread to almost anywhere in the body but the most common places for it to spread are the:

  • lymph nodes
  • lungs
  • liver
  • bones
  • brain
  • tummy (abdomen)
Diagram showing the most common places for melanoma to spread to

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are part of a system of tubes and glands in the body that filters body fluids and fights infection.

The most common symptom if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is that they feel hard or swollen. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck area can make it hard to swallow.

Cancer cells can also stop lymph fluid from draining away. This might lead to swelling in the neck or face due to fluid buildup in that area. The swelling is called lymphoedema.

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the lungs

You may have any of these symptoms if your cancer has spread into the lungs:

  • a cough that doesn’t go away
  • breathlessness
  • ongoing chest infections
  • coughing up blood
  • a buildup of fluid between the chest wall and the lung (a pleural effusion)

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the liver

You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the liver:

  • discomfort or pain on the right side of your tummy (abdomen)
  • feeling sick
  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • a swollen tummy (called ascites)
  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • itchy skin

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the bone

You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the bones:

  • pain from breakdown of the bone – the pain is continuous and people often describe it as gnawing
  • backache, which gets worse despite resting
  • weaker bones – they can break more easily
  • raised blood calcium (hypercalcaemia), which can cause dehydration, confusion, sickness, tummy (abdominal) pain and constipation
  • low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells, causing anaemia, increased risk of infection, bruising and bleeding

Cancer in the spinal bones can cause pressure on the spinal cord. If it isn't treated, it can lead to weakness in your legs, numbness, paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control (incontinence). This is called spinal cord compression. It is an emergency so if you have these symptoms, you need to contact your cancer specialist straight away or go to the accident and emergency department.

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the brain

You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to your brain:

  • headaches
  • feeling sick
  • weakness of a part of the body
  • fits (seizures)
  • personality changes or mood changes
  • eyesight changes
  • confusion
Last reviewed: 
09 Dec 2015
  • Cancer and its management
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    John Wiley and Sons Ltd (2015)

  • TNM Staging Charts
    Rubin and Hansen
    Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2009

  • Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer
    National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2004

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine
    Eds D Doyle and others
    Oxford Universty Press, 3rd edition 2005 

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