Melanoma, a particularily aggressive form of skin cancer, is becoming far more common - your lifetime risk is now one in 62. Despite advances in cancer treatments over the last decade and the increased awareness of skin cancer, the survival rate for melanoma has not improved.
Melanoma is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color. It can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance. Some moles that are present at birth may develop into melanomas.
There are four major types of melanoma:
Rarely, melanomas appear in the mouth, iris of the eye, or retina at the back of the eye. They may be found during dental or eye examinations. Although very rare, melanoma can also develop in the vagina, esophagus, anus, urinary tract, and small intestine.
Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer. However, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing.
The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people.
You are more likely to develop melanoma if you:
Other risk factors include:
A mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin can be a sign of melanoma or other skin cancer. A sore or growth that bleeds, or changes in skin coloring may also be a sign of skin cancer.
The ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms of melanoma:
The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot if you don't look carefully. Have yearly body checks by a dermatologist, and examine your skin once a month. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.