Epidemiology, staging and management of mucosal melanoma of the head and neck: a narrative review

Chin Clin Oncol. 2023 Jun;12(3):28. doi: 10.21037/cco-23-16.


Background and objective: Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck (MMHN) are rare, aggressive neoplasms of melanocyte origin that remain incompletely understood and have a poor prognosis, with high rates of locoregional recurrence and distant metastasis. Several recent studies having expanded understanding of MMHN, we undertook a review of the latest evidence pertaining to its epidemiology, staging, and management.

Methods: A literature search was conducted for peer-reviewed articles reporting and discussing the epidemiology, staging, and management of MMHN. PubMed, Medline, Embase and the Cochrane Library were searched to identify relevant publications.

Key content and findings: MMHN remains an uncommon disease. The current TNM staging system for MMHN provides inadequate risk stratification, and consideration of an alternative staging model such as one based on a nomogram may be justifiable. Tumour resection with clear histological margins remains the cornerstone of optimal treatment. Adjuvant radiotherapy may improve locoregional control but does not appear to affect survival. Immune checkpoint inhibitors and c-KIT inhibitors demonstrate promising efficacy in patients with advanced or unresectable mucosal melanomas, and warrant further research exploring the utility of combination therapies. Their roles as adjuvant therapies have not been determined. The efficacy of neoadjuvant systemic therapy is also not yet clear, although early results suggest that it may improve outcomes.

Conclusions: New insights into the epidemiology, staging and management of MMHN have transformed the standard of care for this rare malignancy. Nonetheless, the results of ongoing clinical trials and future prospective studies are required to better understand this aggressive disease and optimise its management.

Keywords: Mucosal melanoma; epidemiology; head and neck; management; staging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Melanoma* / epidemiology
  • Melanoma* / pathology
  • Melanoma* / therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Neoplasm Staging