Protect your skin, prevent melanoma

At the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, we provide expert care for melanoma and skin cancer. If untreated, certain skin cancers can spread to your organs and bones. When caught early, they can be treated and cured with surgery.

In partnership with UW dermatologists, our melanoma and skin cancer program specializes in diagnosing skin cancer early. We also excel at treating advanced skin cancer.

Causes and risks

Know the causes and risks for melanoma and skin cancer

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 might also put you at risk for melanoma. Risk factors include:

  • Fair skin

  • Family history of melanoma

  • Atypical moles

Types of skin cancers

Basal and squamous cells are located in the top layer of skin. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. The most common area of the body where basal cell carcinoma develops is the face, head and neck, which are frequently exposed to the sun. This type of skin cancer grows very slowly and rarely spreads. Individuals who have had basal cell carcinoma are most likely to have new spots develop in other places. If left untreated, the cancer can grow into other areas, such as the tissues beneath the skin.

Like basal cells, squamous cells cancers are relatively common. Squamous cell cancers appear on areas of the body that are often exposed to the sun, including the lips and backs of the hands. Unlike basal cells, squamous cell cancers tend to spread to other parts of the body, but they can usually be removed completely.

While ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer in adults, it is a rare cancer. Eye melanomas develop inside the eye and cannot be seen when you look in a mirror. Because they don’t cause any early signs or symptoms, it’s important to have a routine eye exam.

Merkel cell carcinoma, or MCC, is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer that has a high risk of returning. Merkel cells are located deep in the top layer of skin. MCC tumors often appear on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the forehead, arms or legs. Merkel cell carcinoma is more deadly than melanoma, but can often be treated successfully with early detection.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Melanoma and skin cancer

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, and a pathologist studies the tissue to look for cancer cells.

If the biopsy shows melanoma, you will likely be referred to see a surgeon. You might need more tests to see if the cancer has spread. These include imaging scans, such as 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

The skin cancer team at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center meets regularly in a specialized Tumor Board to discuss complex melanoma and other advanced skin cancer cases. Bringing together an expert team from across different programs — including oncology, ophthalmology and plastic surgery, among others — ensures patients receive the best possible care.

Dr. Heather Neuman, a surgical oncologist, discusses melanoma treatment at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center.

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.–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 

Clinical trials: Advancing melanoma care with research

Our melanoma doctors and scientists 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.

Search our clinical trials

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's story

Veteran saved by melanoma clinical trial treatment

Buck Parker 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'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 and skin cancer care

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

Medical oncology
Radiation oncology
Surgical oncology


Specialty care for melanoma

We provide specialized care for melanoma at UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center clinics in Madison, Wis., and Rockford, Ill.

Patient resources

Learn more

Learn more about melanoma and how you can stay safe in the sun.

Support services for cancer patients 

At the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, we provide a full range of care and services. They include: