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If melanoma spreads

Melanoma cancer cells have the potential to spread from the skin to other parts of the body where they can grow into new tumours. This process is called metastasis. The tumours are also called metastasis (singular) or metastases (plural).

Understanding the usual progression of cancer helps the doctor to predict its probable course, plan treatment and anticipate further care.

In general, melanomas have 2 growth phases: radial and vertical. During the radial growth phase, malignant cells grow in an outward fashion, spreading across the epidermis. After time, most melanomas progress to the vertical growth phase, in which the malignant cells invade the dermis and develop the ability to spread or metastasize.

The majority of first metastases are local or regional sites, including regional lymph nodes. The most common distant sites where melanoma spreads are:

  • lung
  • liver
  • distant areas of the skin
  • brain
  • gastrointestinal tract
  • bone
  • adrenal gland


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