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Melanoma: Types and Causes

Get the Facts

  • One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults ages 25-29 years and the second most common form of cancer for young people between the ages of 15 and 29.
  • The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early (before the tumor has penetrated the skin) is about 99%. The survival rate falls to 15% for those with advanced disease.
Great video by Dr. Mike Evans on detecting Melanoma

What is Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious skin cancer, which is curable if detected early. Sometimes called cutaneous melanoma or malignant melanoma, melanoma grows from pigment cells (melanocytes) in the outer layer of the skin and mucous membranes (epidermis). Melanoma is a more serious type of cancer than the more common skin cancers, basal cell cancer or squamous cell cancer, which begin in the basal or squamous cells of the epidermis.

Melanoma accounts for about 4 percent of all diagnosed cancers. It usually occurs in adults, but it may occasionally be found in children and adolescents. Men most often get melanoma on the trunk (the area of the body between the shoulders and hips) or on the head or neck; women most often get melanoma on the arms and legs.

Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer as it can rapidly spread to the lymph system and internal organs. (Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body; they produce and store infection-fighting cells.) In the United States alone, approximately one person dies from melanoma every hour.

With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for melanoma is about 95%. Once its spreads, the prognosis is poor. You should see your doctor if you have any of the following warning signs of melanoma:

  • change in the size, shape, or color of a mole
  • oozing or bleeding from a mole
  • a mole that feels itchy, hard, lumpy, swollen, or tender to the touch

Melanoma most often develops in a pre-existing mole or looks like a new mole, which is why it is important for people to know what their moles look like and be able to detect changes to existing moles and spot new moles.

ABCDE’s of Melanoma

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn’t’ look like the other half
  • Borders: Uneven, notched or fuzzy
  • Color: More than one color or shade
  • Diameter: Greater than one-fourth of an inch
  • Evolving: If a mole changes size, shape or color

If you have signs of skin cancer, your doctor will examine your skin carefully. If a mole or pigmented area doesn't look normal, your doctor will cut it out (called local excision) and look at it under the microscope to see if it contains cancer. This is usually done in a doctor's office. It is important that this biopsy is done correctly.

Additional links and resources

Know your UV levels and risks with this UV Safety Poster.

Get the facts. The CDC has a great facts sheet about skin cancer within the state of New Jersey and the United States as whole. Download this skin cancer fact sheet.

Web MD (www.webmd.com)

eMedicine (www.emedicinehealth.com)

The Dermatology Group (www.thedermgroup.com)

SkinCarePhysicians.com (www.skincarephysicians.com)