Overview

Protect your skin, prevent melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. At UW Health, we provide expert care for melanoma. If untreated, melanoma can spread to your organs and bones. When caught early, melanoma can be treated and cured with surgery.

In partnership with UW dermatologists, the melanoma program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center specializes in diagnosing melanoma early. We also excel at treating advanced melanoma.

Causes and risks

Know the causes and risks for melanoma

You have an increased risk of getting melanoma from spending too much time in the sun. Excess UV radiation can cause normal skin cells to become abnormal. The damaged skin cells can then grow out of control and attack nearby tissues.

Your skin tone and family history may also put you at risk for melanoma. Risk factors include:

  • Fair skin

  • Family history of melanoma

  • Atypical moles

Symptoms and diagnosis

Signs and symptoms of melanoma

A change in the color, shape or size of a mole can be a sign of melanoma. Melanomas often appear:

  • At least ¼ inch or larger

  • Brown or black

  • Flat with uneven edges

  • Irregular or asymmetrical in shape

A melanoma can be itchy, sore and bleed. Alternatively, you might not experience any symptoms.

Moles can often appear on the upper back of both men and women. They are also common on women's legs.  

Diagnosing and staging melanoma

Your doctor checks your skin. If your care team suspects a melanoma, we perform a biopsy. We take a small sample of tissue from the suspected melanoma. A pathologist studies the tissue to look for cancer cells.

If the biopsy shows melanoma, you will likely be referred to see a surgeon first.  You may need more tests to see if the cancer has spread. These include imaging scans (CT, MRI, or PET).

Treatments and research

How we treat, prevent and research melanoma

Your care team will find the best treatment for your melanoma. For early-stage melanoma, surgery to remove the cancer cells might be the only treatment you need. Surgery also could include a sentinel lymph node biopsy to determine if melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes.

Other treatments might be necessary if the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body or is advanced. These include:

  • Immunotherapy

  • Targeted therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Radiation therapy

Take steps to prevent melanoma

You can prevent melanoma by protecting yourself whenever you are in the sun, no matter your skin tone. Follow these tips:

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Check your skin often for odd marks, moles or sores that will not heal

  • Do not sunbathe or use tanning salons

  • Get regular skin checks from a dermatologist

  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours when you are outside

  • Use extra sun protection when near the water, at high elevation or in tropical climates

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 during times of sun exposure

  • Use sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB radiation

  • Wear sun-protective clothing outside, like a hat to shade your scalp and face 

Advancing melanoma care with research

The melanoma doctors and scientists at UW Health work to improve skin cancer care for you. Our Melanoma Disease-Oriented Team studies new diagnostic tools and treatments and provides multispecialty care for patients. We also lead clinical trials, which can be found here.

Patient stories

Inspiration from patients who have overcome

If you are experiencing life with melanoma, you are not alone. Find encouragement from other patients who have been through similar challenges.

Buck Parker's story

Veteran saved by melanoma clinical trial treatment

Veteran Buck Parker's was told he had months to live because of melonoma but immunotherapy treatment stemming from a cancer clinical trial saved his life.

Watch Buck Parker's story
Dan Lenz's storyA father's experience with melanoma
Dan Lenz was the father of three young children when he was diagnosed with melanoma. The experience led Dan and his family to support melanoma research at UW Health.

Meet our team

Comprehensive melanoma care

The melanoma care team at UW Health includes specialists in dermatology, medical oncology, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, radiation oncology and surgical oncology.

Location

Specialty care for melanoma

We provide specialized care for melanoma at UW Health clinics in Madison.

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  • UW Carbone Cancer Center - Melanoma Clinic
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 265-1700
    • Open now
    •  
      View hours, services and more

Patient resources

Learn more

At UW Health, we provide access to resources for living well during and after melanoma treatment.