At the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre we know that a cancer diagnosis is a life changing event. We also know that every cancer is different, just like every person is different. We are dedicated to supporting and guiding you throughout your care. On this page you can learn about symptoms of melanoma and the potential treatment pathway.

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What is melanoma?

There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the least common of the three, but is the most serious as it can spread the most easily.


Melanin is the pigment that changes the body’s skin colour in order to protect it from the sun. When we tan, our body produces melanin as a defence against the sun’s rays. Melanin is produced by special cells called melanocytes that are in the top layer of our skin. Melanocytes are also in moles and freckles.


Melanoma is when melanocytes grow in an uncontrolled and abnormal way. It most commonly starts in parts of the skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the arms, face, upper body and legs. Some rare melanomas can develop in parts of the body that rarely or never see the sun, such as soles of a person’s feet, the lining of the mouth or the nervous system. Melanomas are usually diagnosed when a person notices an unusual mole and their doctor examines it. The doctor may look at the person’s skin through a magnifying instrument called a dermatoscope and take a tissue sample to to look for signs of cancer.


What are the symptoms of melanoma?

If you have any of the following symptoms please see your doctor. These symptoms may also occur for ailments other than cancer. Your doctor will advise if you need tests and where you should go to have these tests. There is a lot of variation in how melanoma looks. The most common first symptom is a new or changed spot or mole. These changes include:


  • Asymmetry: a change in the shape of an existing spot or mole that may not be symmetrical
  • Border irregularity: the mole might develop a smudgy or scalloped border
  • Colour variation: the spot or mole may get blotchy, with areas of discolouration or increasing darkness
  • Diameter: spot or mole may grow or change in size, growing to more than 6mm in diameter
  • Discomfort: the spot or mole may become itchy or bleed
  • Texture: the mole may become scaly or raised. The raised bits are often reddish.
This information should not be used to replace medical advice.

Further information

Whilst a small number of new moles sometimes appear and change during childhood and adolescence, this is not common in adults. Areas of the skin that have been screened previously may still change and become cancerous. Be sure to keep an eye on potential areas of concern. If you are concerned in any way about a mole or a skin spot we recommend you see your doctor. 

While most melanomas do not spread beyond the skin and can be successfully cured with surgery, melanoma can also spread beyond the skin to lymph nodes.  Lymph nodes are found in in the neck armpit or groin, although other sites can also be involved.  Melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes is known as stage 3 melanoma. In up to 10% of cases melanoma spreads through the blood to distant organs such as the liver, lungs, brain and bones. This is known as stage 4 melanoma. All stages of melanoma require specialised expertise for best management. 

Doctors who attend Melanoma Clinic at the ONJ Centre have particular expertise in the treatment of stage 3 and 4 melanoma.   These doctors also undertake research to develop better treatments for melanoma.  This research is done in partnership with our team of scientists in the Cancer Immuno-Biology laboratory at our Cancer Research Institute.

Nothing has happened, in my view, in the history of cancer medicine which equals [immunotherapy] in terms of excitement. Prof. Jonathan Cebon. Head, Cancer Immunobiology Laboratory, ONJCRI


This video has been provided courtesy of Melanoma Patients Australia.


Can I be treated at the ONJ Centre?

Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, your doctor or specialist can make a referral to the ONJ Centre for your cancer treatment. You can ask to be referred here, regardless of your insurance status or the stage of your treatment. The ONJ Centre is part of Austin Health, a leading Australian public hospital.

how to get a referral