Metastatic Melanoma: Where Can the Cancer Spread?

Health Writer
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Melanoma is considered the most dangerous type of skin cancer due to its ability to metastasize, or spread, quickly and easily. Once the cancer begins to spread throughout the body, it is known as metastatic melanoma, or stage 4 melanoma.

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Where is melanoma likely to begin?

Melanoma is most likely to start on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women, but the neck and face are also common sites. Melanoma can also form in other parts of your body, such as the eyes, scalp, and genitals. People with darkly pigmented skin may be more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and under nails.

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There are three ways melanoma can spread

Metastases happens when melanoma isn’t caught early on. Melanoma is an aggressive disease with the ability to spread rapidly. Melanoma can spread in three ways: directly through the tissues of your skin, by getting into your bloodstream, and by getting into your lymphatic system.

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How does melanoma begin to spread in skin?

Melanoma often begins to spread along the top layer of skin adjacent to the original cancer site. It can also begin to grow deeper into the layers of the dermis. As it spreads through your skin, you may be able to feel hard bumps that crack open and bleed. These bumps may be black or red. Another sign that it has spread is firm, painless lumps under your skin that are skin-colored or may have a bluish tinge.

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How does it come into contact with the lymphatic system?

As the melanoma pushes deeper into your skin, the cancer will come into contact with lymphatic vessels that enable it to spread into the lymphatic system. You may notice a firm, hard swelling in a lymph node if melanoma has spread to the area. The lymph node may be painful and fluid may build up in that area, causing it to feel heavy and swollen – this condition is called lymphedema.

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What are signs that melanoma has metastasized?

Once the cancer is in the lymphatic system, it can spread throughout the body and cause different symptoms, such as constant fatigue, loss of appetite, or weight loss. The most common places for melanoma to spread is to the lungs, brain, liver, bones and intestines.

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What are the symptoms melanoma has spread to the lungs?

The lungs are the most common first organ that melanoma spreads to once it’s in the lymph system. One in 10 melanoma patients will develop lung metastases at some point. Symptoms of metastasis include shortness of breath, a cough that won’t go away, or chest pain or tightness.

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What are the symptoms melanoma has spread to the brain?

Studies show that between 20 to 54 percent of melanoma deaths are the result of brain metastases. Unfortunately this blood brain barrier, which is the filtering mechanism between circulating blood and the brain, also prevents certain chemotherapy drugs from being effective in this area. Symptoms that cancer has spread to the brain include headache and nausea, often in the morning, as well as numbness, tingling sensations and seizures.

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What are the symptoms melanoma has spread to the liver?

Between 10 and 20 percent of melanomas spread to the liver and it usually is a sign the disease has progressed. Symptoms include swelling and pain in the upper right part of the abdomen, nausea, and loss of appetite. The belly may become swollen and the skin and eyes could turn yellowish.

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What are the symptoms melanoma has spread to the bones?

About 17 percent of melanoma cases metastasize to the bones. This often occurs with patients with late-stage melanoma. A broken bone from a seemingly minor injury may be one sign. Some people may complain of bone pain.

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Melanoma may spread to the gastrointestinal tract

Melanomas can sometimes spread to the gastrointestinal tract, most frequently to the small intestines. Symptoms include stomach cramping and vomiting, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, and hemorrhoids.

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How can you prevent melanoma from spreading?

Catching melanoma early is key. People who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily are at higher risk of skin cancer. And the chance of getting melanoma goes up as you get older. Check your skin regularly and be alert to changes in the number, size, shape and color of the moles and spots on your skin.