Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2017 Apr:112:136-152. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2017.01.019. Epub 2017 Feb 13.


Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck is a very rare and aggressive malignancy with a very poor prognosis. The nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, and oral cavity are the most common locations. One-, 3- and 5-year survival rates between 2000 and 2007 were 63%, 30% and 20%, respectively. Cigarette smoking seems to be a risk factor even though the evidence for this is very low. Clinical signs and symptoms are usually nonspecific. While surgery is considered the mainstay of treatment for most mucosal melanomas of the head and neck region, radiotherapy has a role in local control of the disease after surgery. Many new treatment options in the last years, in particular targeted therapies (i.e. inhibitors of c-KIT, NRAS/MEK or BRAF) and immunotherapies (anti CTLA-4 and anti PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies), have changed the history of cutaneous melanoma. Despite the different biology, mucosal melanoma is currently treated in the same way as cutaneous melanoma; however, patients with mucosal melanoma were excluded from the majority of recent clinical trials. Recent molecular findings offer new hope for the development of more effective systemic therapy.

Keywords: Head and neck; Mucosal melanoma; Radiotherapy; Surgery; Targeted therapies; anti PD-1/PD-L1; c-KIT immunotherapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Mouth Mucosa / pathology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / pathology*