The main cause of death in melanoma patients is widespread metastases. Staging of melanoma is based on the primary tumor thickness, ulceration, lymph node and distant metastases. Metastases develop in regional lymph nodes, as satellite or in-transit lesions, or in distant organs. Lymph flow and chemotaxis is responsible for the homing of melanoma cells to different sites. Standard pathologic evaluation of sentinel lymph nodes fails to find occult melanoma in a significant proportion of cases. Detection of small numbers of malignant melanoma cells in these and other sites, such as adjacent to the primary site, bone marrow or the systemic circulation, may be enhanced by immunohistochemistry, reverse transcription PCR, evaluation of lymphatic vessel invasion and proteomics. In the organs to which melanoma cells metastasize extravasation of melanoma cells is regulation by adhesion molecules, matrix metalloproteases, chemokines and growth factors. Melanoma cells may travel along external vessel lattices. After setting in the metastatic sites, melanoma cells develop mechanism that protect them against the attack of the immune system. It is though that one of the reasons why melanoma cells are especially resistant to killing is the fact that melanocytes (cells from which melanoma cells derive) are resistant to such noxious factors as ultraviolet light and reactive oxygen species. Targeted melanoma therapies are, so far, largely unsuccessful, and new ones, such as adjuvant inhibition of melanogenesis, are under development. © 2008 Expert Reviews Ltd.