Types of Melanoma

There are several different types of melanoma. For most types, the cancer begins in the top layers of the skin – referred to as “in situ” – but melanoma can become invasive by growing deeper into the skin and spreading to other areas of the body. Other types are considered invasive from the start. In men, it is most common for melanoma to develop on the back. In women, melanoma most often occurs on the legs. It’s important to note, however, that melanoma can develop on any area of the body – even unsuspecting places such as on genitalia, under the fingernails or on the soles of the feet.

Melanoma typically falls into one of three general categories: cutaneous melanoma (melanoma of the skin), mucosal melanoma (melanoma of any mucous membrane, such as the throat, mouth, vagina or anus) or ocular melanoma (melanoma occurring in the eye). Cutaneous melanoma is the most common of these categories, and the four main types of cutaneous melanoma include:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma – The majority of cutaneous melanoma cases (approximately 70 percent) fall under this type. The cancer usually develops in an ordinary mole that previously was benign (not cancerous), and it often remains “in situ” quite a while before penetrating deeper. The melanoma may appear as a flat or slightly raised patch of the skin that is discolored, has irregular borders and is asymmetrical. The color may include areas of brown, red, white, blue, black or tan.
  • Nodular melanoma – This is the most aggressive form of cutaneous melanoma. It typically appears as a dark bump – usually black, but lesions may also appear in other colors including colorless skin tones. This type of melanoma may develop where a mole did not previously exist.
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma – This type tends to grow on the surface of the skin for a while before becoming invasive. It most often appears as a flat or slightly raised mottled discoloration of brown or tan. This melanoma is most common in elderly individuals who have experienced extensive sun exposure, and can sometimes be mistaken for sun spots.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma – A more rare form of melanoma, this type begins “in situ” and is found most frequently in African-Americans and Asians. It can appear on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands resembling a bruise or colored patch. It may also occur under the fingernails or toenails, looking like a dark streak or discoloration.

All types of melanoma require immediate attention, as they are more successfully treated when caught in their early stages. If you suspect you may have a form of skin cancer, call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete our new patient registration form online. No referral is necessary to meet with the multispecialty team of oncologists who specialize in skin cancer.