Types of Melanoma and What They Mean

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Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. There are four basic types. Three of them start on the top layer of your skin. Melanoma is less dangerous and more treatable when it is on the top layer. Doctors call this type superficial. One type of melanoma grows deep into your skin from the start. Doctors call this type invasive melanoma.

Superficial melanomas can become invasive, but this takes some time. That’s why it's important to find melanoma early. The types of melanoma differ by appearance and where they typically occur.

Superficial Spreading Melanoma

This is the most common type of melanoma. It stays superficial—on the top layer of your skin—for a long time (months to years) before becoming invasive.

  • It is the most common type of melanoma in young people. However, most people who have it are 30 to 60 years old.

  • It looks flat or slightly raised and has an irregular border.
  • It can have many colors including tan, brown, purple, black, red, white or blue.
  • It can start in a mole you already have.
  • It can occur anywhere. Most of the time it develops on your trunk, legs or back.

Lentigo Maligna

This rare type of melanoma also stays superficial for a long time (usually years) before becoming invasive.

  • It usually occurs in people ages 70 to 80. Women have lentigo maligna more often than men.
  • It looks flat or slightly raised. It may get larger and have irregular borders.
  • It can have tan, brown, dark brown, or black colors.
  • It usually occurs on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck or arms.

Acral Lentiginous Melanoma

This superficial type of melanoma may become invasive more quickly than the others. It also is rare, but slightly more common than lentigo maligna.

  • This is the most common type of melanoma in Asians and African Americans.
  • It may appear under your nails or on the soles of your hands or feet.
  • It may look like a black or brown discoloration or bruise.
  • If it appears on your skin, the growth may quickly turn from flat with irregular borders to a raised nodule.

  • You want to detect it early and treat it quickly for the best chance of cure.

Nodular Melanoma

This is the invasive type of melanoma. That makes it the most dangerous. It is more common than lentigo and acral melanoma, but not as common as superficial spreading melanoma.

  • This type often occurs between ages 50 and 60. It is more common in men than women.
  • It appears as a bump or nodule.
  • It may have a blue, gray, tan, red or black color. It can also be normal skin colored.
  • It usually occurs on the scalp, trunk, legs or arms.

Although some types of melanoma are more dangerous than others, they can all be dangerous if they become invasive. Always let your doctor know about any new skin growths or any changes in a skin mole. Ask about having a regular head-to-toe skin check every year. Early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Types of Melanoma. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma/types-of-melanoma

  2. Types of Melanoma. AIM at Melanoma Foundation. https://www.aimatmelanoma.org/about-melanoma/types-of-melanoma/

  3. Types of Melanoma. American Melanoma Foundation. http://www.melanomafoundation.org/facts/types.htm