Doctor examining moles


About 1,200 people are diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer each year in Ireland. 

Everyone is at some risk of developing melanoma. However, your risk may increase depending on factors such as sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics).

On this page:

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects melanocytes, the cells that make melanin. Melanoma happens when melanocytes change and grow out of control. 

The cell changes usually start in the surface of the skin, either in a mole or in normal skin. If not caught early, it can spread to other parts of your body.

In rare cases, melanoma may develop in other parts of your body. For example, your eye, mouth, under your finger nails or toe nails or in your lungs or bowel. Ask your consultant or call our Support Line on 1800 200 700 for more information if you have one of these rarer types of melanoma.

Skin with melanoma diagram

About your skin

The skin is the outer covering of your body. The skin has two main layers: 

  • The outer layer (epidermis) 
  • The inner or deeper layer (dermis)

The outer layer has three types of cells: 

  • Flat, scaly cells called squamous cells.
  • Rounder cells called basal cells, found below the squamous cells. 
  • Cells that give skin its colour (melanocytes). These are in between the basal cells. 

Non-melanoma skin cancer affects the squamous cells and basal cells.
Melanoma skin cancer affects the melanocytes.

The deepest layer called the dermis has blood and lymph vessels, hair roots and sweat glands.

More information about treatment for melanoma

Treatment for melanoma includes surgery, targeted therapies  and chemotherapy.

For more information about treatments for melanoma, visit our treatment page. For information about particular treatments and post-treatment, see the links below.

Looking for support?

Our cancer support section contains information and advice on coping with cancer for diagnosed patients and their loved ones.

Publications about melanoma
Downloadable booklets and factsheets
Be Skin Smart - Melanoma
Be skin smart - Signs of melanoma
Be skin smart! What to look for when you're checking for signs of melanoma.
An A4 poster to download, share, or print.
Melanoma skin cancer leaflet
Melanoma skin cancer - What you should know
This leaflet explains what to check for when you're looking for changes that could be melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma booklet
Melanoma booklet
Information for melanoma skin cancer patients, including tests, staging, treatment and side-effects, and how to cope.

Medical content reviewed by Aoife Lally MD FRCPI, Associate Professor and Consultant Dermatologist; Katrina Fogarty, Clinical Nurse Specialist Melanoma; Emma O'Riordan, Oncology Liaison Nurse. Oct 2022.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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