One of the first signs of malignant melanoma is a new mole, or a change in appearance of an existing one. Melanoma develops from cells in the skin known as melanocytes. These grow and divide more quickly than usual and start to spread into the surrounding surface layers of skin.
Most people with a melanoma less than 1mm in depth are cured by surgery. If the melanoma is not removed, the cells grow down into the deeper layers of the skin. If the melanoma cells go into the blood vessels or lymph channels, they can travel to other parts of the body in the blood or lymph system, making it harder to treat.
About 8,100 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and malignant melanoma is the country's fastest-growing cancer, with rates tripling in the three decades to 2003. In 2004 there were 1,777 deaths from the disease.
NHS Scotland has released figures covering the year 2005, showing cases of malignant melanomas among men rose by 43 per cent from 10 years before.
Pale and fair-haired people are particularly at risk and need to be aware of any changes to existing moles or new moles or marks. Cancer Research UK run a SunSmart campaign that gives advice on the prevention of the disease.Reuse content