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Types of melanoma

The 3 main types make up 90% of all diagnosed malignant melanoma. Acral lentiginous melanoma and a few very rare types make up the other 10%.

Superficial spreading melanoma

About 7 out of 10 of all melanomas in the UK (70%) are this type. To start with, they tend to grow outwards in the skin rather than downwards. The melanoma is not usually at risk of spreading to other parts of the body until it begins to grow down into the deeper layers of skin.

Nodular melanoma

This type of melanoma tends to develop quite quickly. It is most often found on the chest or back. It will begin to grow downwards, deeper into the skin quite quickly if it is not removed.

Lentigo maligna melanoma

About 1 in 10 melanomas (10%) are this type. It is most common on the face, and in older people who have spent a lot of time outdoors. It grows very slowly.

Acral lentiginous melanoma

This type is rare and is most commonly found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet or around the big toenail. It can also grow under the nails.

Amelanotic melanoma

A melanoma that has no or very little pigment.

Other types of melanoma

Melanoma can occur anywhere in the body, including in the internal organs, the eye, the vulva, vagina or back passage (rectum).

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About melanoma section.

 

 

Different types of melanoma

Superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, and lentigno maligna melanomas make up 90% of all diagnosed malignant melanomas. Acral lentiginous melanoma and a few very rare types together make up the other 10%.

 

Superficial spreading melanoma

This is the most common type of melanoma. About 7 out of 10 of all melanomas in the UK (70%) are this type. They are most common in middle aged people. To start with, they tend to grow outwards rather than downwards into the skin. Doctors call this the radial growth phase. The melanoma is not usually at risk of spreading to other parts of the body until it begins to grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin and beyond. So if you have a mole that is getting bigger, particularly if it has an irregular edge, it is important to go and get it checked.

 

Nodular melanoma

This type of melanoma tends to develop quite quickly. It is found most often in middle aged people and in parts of the body only exposed to the sun occasionally. So it is most often found on the chest or back. It begins to grow downwards, deeper into the skin, quite quickly if it is not removed. There is often a raised area on the skin surface with this type of melanoma. Nodular melanomas are often very dark brownish black, or black, in colour. They can come up in areas of skin that have not received a great deal of sun. And they may not necessarily develop from a mole which was already there.

 

Lentigo maligna melanoma

About 1 in 10 melanomas (10%) are this type. They develop from very slow growing pigmented areas of skin called lentigo maligna or Hutchinson's melanotic freckle. Lentigo maligna and lentigo maligna melanoma are most common in elderly people. They appear in areas of skin that get a lot of sun exposure, so are most common on the face. They are  also more common in people who have spent a lot of time outdoors. The lentigo maligna is flat and grows outwards in the surface layers of the skin. So it may gradually get bigger over several years and may change shape. If it becomes a lentigo maligna melanoma, it starts to grow down into the deeper layers of the skin and may form lumps (nodules).

 

Acral lentiginous melanoma

This type is rare and is most commonly found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet or around the big toenail. It can also grow under the nails. It is much more common on the feet than on the hands and is the most common type of melanoma in dark skinned people.

 

Amelanotic melanoma

Amelanotic means without melanin. Melanomas tend to be dark in colour, amelanotic melanomas usually have no, or very little colour. Occasionally they are pink or red, or have light brown or gray around the edges. Less than 5 out of 100 melanomas (5%) are amelanotic. Other types of melanoma such as acral lentiginous can lack colour and are amelanotic melanomas. They are often difficult to diagnose because of their lack of colour and may be mistaken for other conditions of the skin. Treatment is the same as for other types of melanoma.

 

Other types of melanoma

Melanoma can occur anywhere in the body, including in the internal organs. Melanoma of the skin is also called cutaneous malignant melanoma. Cutaneous is another word for the skin. 

One area where melanoma can occur, although it is rare, is inside the eye. There are melanocytes in the iris (the coloured bit around the pupil) and also in a lining inside the eye called the choroid layer. If these melanocytes (the pigment producing cells) become cancerous, then this is a melanoma. If melanoma starts in the iris, a dark spot may show. But if it is anywhere else in the eye, it will only be seen if a specialist examines the eye. There is more information about melanoma of the eye in the eye cancer section.

Also rarely, it is possible to get melanoma of the vulva, vaginal melanoma or melanoma of the back passage (rectum).

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Updated: 17 January 2014