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Metastatic Melanomas

Melanomas have the potential to spread from the skin to other parts of the body.

Although most melanomas are caught before they spread (or metastasize), melanomas have the potential to spread from the skin to other parts of the body. The thicker or deeper a melanoma is, the more likely it is to spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.

Although it is rare, the cancer may have spread to several other sites, such as the lymph nodes, lungs and brain, even when the original skin melanoma is quite small. A melanoma that has spread may not be detectable until long after the original melanoma is removed from the skin. A metastatic melanoma is sometimes confused with cancer that originates in the organ in which the tumour is eventually found. For example, a melanoma may be diagnosed as a brain or liver tumour when it really originated in the skin.

It is important to know what kind of cancer it is, since different cancers are treated in different ways. Tests can be performed on biopsy samples to see whether it is a melanoma or another kind of cancer. A fine needle biopsy is usually used to obtain a sample for this purpose.

Fine needle biopsy uses a syringe with a thin needle to remove small tissue fragments from a tumour. It may also be used to biopsy enlarged lymph nodes near a melanoma, to find out if the cancer has spread. A CT scan may be used to guide a needle into the tumour or a nearby internal organ.

If your doctor finds that the cancer has metastasized, it is vital that it be treated as soon as possible.

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Melanoma Skin Cancer

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital