How Does Melanoma Spread?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer deriving from the abnormal pigment-producing skin cells which start to grow uncontrollably and invade the surrounding tissue. When diagnosed in its early stages, melanoma can be successfully removed with surgery. If, however, it starts to spread, its treatment and cure are much harder. When metastasis to other parts of the body occurs, melanoma is considered to be at its advanced stages. Melanoma can spread almost anywhere in the human body. Then how does it spread?

How Does Melanoma Spread?

Melanoma spreads in the blood stream with two methods: invade the blood vessels with tumors or move with the lymph node. With the flow of blood stream, the cancer cells can spread to almost any part of the human body. However, the lungs, the liver or the brain are often affected. Metastases also occur in the bones, pancreas, kidneys, thyroid glands, adrenal glands, heart, gastrointestinal tract, etc. In the following table, you can see the chances of melanoma spreading to different organs in the human body.



Lymph Nodes

70 to 75 Percent

Other Parts of the Skin, Fat Tissue and Muscles

65 to 70 Percent


70 to 87 Percent

Liver and Gallbladder

54 to 77 Percent


36 to 54 Percent


23 to 49 Percent


40 to 45 Percent


38 to 53 Percent


35 to 48 Percent

Gastrointestinal Tract

26 to 58 Percent


30 Percent

Thyroid Gland

25 to 39 Percent

Adrenal Glands

36 to 54 Percent

 How Do You Know If Melanoma Has Spread?

Aside from the answer to "how does melanoma spread?" you may also want to know if melanoma has spread to other parts of the body.

  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Lymph nodes: swollen and hard lymph nodes. In rare cases, pain also accompanies these swollen and hard lymph nodes as they compress the structures nearby.
  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Skin: firm nodules or even hard nodules.
  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Lungs: persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or even pleural effusion.
  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Liver: loss of appetite, ascites, jaundice, sickness, and discomfort and abdominal pain on the right side of your tummy and just under your ribs, etc.
  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Bones: pain and discomfort of the bones. Rarely, bone fractures are the first symptom of melanoma spreading to the bones.
  • The Symptoms of Spreading to Brain: headaches, sickness, numbness, a tingling sensation on the extremities or weakness of the limbs. Sometimes, seizures or even changes in the personality occur.

How to Treat Melanoma If It Has Spread

How does melanoma spread? Are there any methods to treat melanoma if it has spread? There are different treatment options for melanoma, depending on multiple factors such as your overall health, age, the number, size and location of the metastasis. It also depends on how fast the disease has spread to other body parts. Common treatment options include:

1.   Surgery

With surgical treatment, the tumors together with the lymph nodes are surgically removed in order to prevent them from spreading further. However, surgical treatment is not quite possible at the advanced stage because of the locations of the tumors. In these cases, surgery is not recommended and the tumors are considered as inoperable.

2.   Radiotherapy

High-energy radiation therapy is often used in order to help kill the cancer cells. Radiotherapy treatment is often combined with a surgical removal of the tumors for the better success of the treatment.

3.   Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is another treatment option for your melanoma and its metastasis. It involves different kind of drugs, used alone or combined together to attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy may hurt healthy cells as well.

4.   Immunotherapy

Ipilimumab is one of the immunotherapy treatments that help your immune system restore its response against the cancer cells. It may not work for everyone and sometimes it can even have serious side effects for the body. These side effects are life-threatening, sometimes even leading to death.

5.   Targeted Therapy

This kind of treatment intercepts the messages which are needed for the cancer cells to grow and multiply. Targeted therapy targets the mutated genes. However, in certain cases, it can even impact healthy cells.

6.   Clinical Trials

Are you wondering how does melanoma spread? Are you diagnosed with melanoma? Are you wondering about your treatment options when diagnosed with metastatic melanoma? If all other treatments fail, you can choose to have clinic trials. They are conducted tests that try to find out new possible treatment for melanoma. Your doctor will determine if you are eligible for a clinical trial.