Skin Cancer Basics

5 Signs Melanoma Has Spread

Jackie Ho Sep 10th, 2014 (updated Jul 7th, 2016)
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Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and stage 4—also known as advanced or metastatic melanoma—is its most advanced phase. During this stage, melanoma has spread to different parts of the body. Knowing the symptoms of stage 4 melanoma can help you recognize any alarming changes in your condition. 

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Enlarged tumors
Enlarged tumors

Tumor size with stage 4 melanoma varies from person to person, but tumors at this stage are typically thicker than four millimeters deep, according to the American Joint Commission on Cancer (AJCC). Tumor size isn’t always the best indicator of skin cancer stage, however, because while treatments may shrink the tumor, the cancer can still metastasize, or spread.

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Swollen lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes may feel hard and swollen if the cancer has spread to them from the original cancer site. Affected lymph nodes may also become matted, or joined together, in which case they will feel lumpy and hard.

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Difficulty breathing
Difficulty breathing

While melanoma can spread to various parts of the body, it most commonly moves to the lungs. If this happens, a patient may experience difficulty breathing or persistent coughing. Other symptoms may include chest discomfort or what’s called pleural effusion, when fluid collects around the lungs.

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Stomach aches
Stomach aches

If you feel an ache in the right side of your stomach, under your lower ribs, it may be a sign that cancer cells have spread to the liver. Melanoma that has spread to the liver can also lead to loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes and a build-up of fluid in the abdomen.

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Broken bones
Broken bones

Melanoma sometimes spreads to the bones, which may cause them to become weaker. Common symptoms include pain or discomfort in the bones. A more rare symptom is a broken bone after a minor injury.

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General symptoms
General symptoms

Advanced melanoma may cause more general symptoms that don’t necessarily tell you where the cancer has spread. Symptoms may include weight loss, fatigue, bowel problems and feeling sick. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your physician.