Melanoma is a disease of the skin in which cancer cells are found in the melanocytes, the cells that produce color in the skin or pigment known as melanin. Melanoma usually occurs in adults, but it may occasionally be found in children and adolescents. Melanoma may also be called cutaneous melanoma or malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest, but most virulent, form of skin cancer.
Melanoma is a more serious type of cancer than the more common basal cell cancer, or squamous cell cancer. Although the incidence of melanoma is lower than other types of skin cancer, it has the highest death rate and is responsible for a majority of all deaths from skin cancer.
Melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with other skin types can be affected. Rarely, melanomas can form in parts of the body not covered by skin such as the eyes, mouth, vagina, large intestine, and other internal organs.
Persons with the following characteristics may be at an increased risk for melanoma:
Dark-brown or black skin is not a guarantee against melanoma. African-Americans can develop this cancer, especially on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails, or in the mouth.
The following are the most common symptoms of melanoma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Because most malignant melanoma cells still produce melanin, melanoma tumors are often shaded brown or black. Melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole. Men most often develop melanoma on the area of the body between the shoulders and hips, or on the head or neck. Women most often develop melanoma on the arms and legs. However, melanoma can spread quickly to other parts of the body through the lymph system, or through the blood. Like most cancers, melanoma is best treated when it is diagnosed early.
The symptoms of melanoma may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
For more information about the Melanoma Multidisciplinary Clinic, call 877-BEAT-CANCER (877-232-8226) today.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 68,130 Americans were diagnosed with melanoma in 2010.
Copyright © 2013 Beaumont Health System. All Rights Reserved.