• Head & Neck Mucosal Melanoma

Head & Neck Mucosal Melanoma

What is head and neck mucosal melanoma?

Melanoma develops if there is uncontrolled growth of melanocytes, the cells responsible for pigmenting (darkening) the skin. Mucosal melanoma is a kind of melanoma that occurs in mucous membranes. These are the moist surfaces that line cavities within the body. Mucosal melanomas can occur in the mouth (oral mucosal melanoma), nasal passages (sinonasal mucosal melanoma) or very occasionally the throat (pharngeal/ laryngeal mucosal melanoma) as well as in other parts of the body including in the eye or around the genital and rectal areas.

Mucosal melanomas are very rare: in the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database which registered melanomas over 22 years, only about 1 melanoma in 100 was a mucosal melanoma. The majority of melanomas grow within the skin. Mucosal melanomas can be more complicated to treat than skin melanomas as they are often diagnosed later. This is because they are in less visible places and because they are often not pigmented (darker), which makes them even more difficult to spot.

Mucosal melanomas are different in several ways from skin melanomas. For example, while the risk of getting skin melanoma is increased by too much exposure to the sun, there appears to be no link between sunlight and mucosal melanomas. No specific causes or links with lifestyle have been found for mucosal melanoma and as far as we know there is nothing you can do to prevent it. It also appears that mucosal melanoma tumours are different from skin melanoma tumours. This means that some treatments for skin melanomas may not be as effective for mucosal melanoma and the outlook (prognosis) for mucosal melanomas is not as good as for skin melanomas. The prognosis will be different depending on whether the tumour can be fully removed surgically and whether it has spread. If you would like more information about your individual situation, you should discuss this with your clinical team.

Next: What are the symptoms of head and neck mucosal melanoma?

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