What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a malignant cancer that starts from the pigment cells (melanocytes) of the skin. These cells are the cause of freckles and moles on the skin and produce the brown colour of a suntan.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even on the soles of the feet. Melanocytes in the eye, nervous system and mucous membranes (eg lining of the mouth and nasal passages) can also become cancerous. These types of melanoma are rare.

Melanoma grows quickly. If it is not treated, it may spread to the lower layer of skin, where cancer cells can escape and be carried to other parts of the body in blood or lymph vessels.

In particular, it is of great importance to Australians for two main reasons:

  • Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world
  • It is often identifiable at a stage when simple treatment can result in complete cure

Information courtesy of the Melanoma Institute Website


The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun. Fair skinned/Anglo-Celtic individuals need to develop a lifestyle and/or strategies that minimise their total exposure to sunlight, especially during childhood and adolescence. The single most important issue to understand about protecting the skin from sun damage is that sunscreen lotions themselves should only be considered after the basic measures have been taken:

  • Avoid exposure during the midday period (11am-3pm)
  • Remember that reflection of UV radiation off surfaces like concrete, sand and water causes you to burn, even if you think you are protected. Use sun shelters or shade whenever possible (eg trees, umbrella, buildings), and choose shade carefully.
  • Wear wide brimmed hats and protective shirts which cover the back of the neck. Choose clothing with closely woven fabric.
  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses that meet Australian Standard AS1067.

Watch the video outlining the ABCDE guidelines for checking your own skins