Melanoma (skin cancer)

Skin | Oncology | Melanoma (skin cancer) (Disease)


Melanoma is a cancer that develops in melanocytes, the pigment cells present in the skin. It can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer because it may spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) and cause serious illness and death.

A changing spot may be a problem, but not every change is a problem. A mole may appear and then get bigger or become raised but still be only a mole.

Causes and Risk factors

Melanoma occurs when something goes awry in the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) that give color to your skin. Normally, skin cells develop in a controlled and orderly way — healthy new cells push older cells toward your skins surface, where they die and eventually fall off. But when some cells develop DNA damage, new cells may begin to grow out of control and can eventually form a mass of cancerous cells.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because most melanomas occur on the skin where they can be seen, patients themselves are often the first to detect many melanomas. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial. Caught early, most melanomas can be cured with relatively minor surgery.

Most public health information about melanoma stresses the so-called ABCDs: Asymmetry (one half of the mole is different from the other half), border irregularity (the spot has borders which are not smooth and regular but uneven or notched), color (the spot has several colors in an irregular pattern or is a very different color than the rest of your moles), diameter (the spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser).

When changes such as pain, swelling, or even bleeding come on rapidly, within a day or two, they are likely to be caused by minor trauma, often a kind you don't remember (like scratching the spot in your sleep). If a spot changes rapidly and then goes back to the way it was within a couple of weeks, or falls off altogether, it is not likely to represent anything serious. Keep in mind that what may seem like the sudden appearance of a spot or a rapid change in its appearance may just mean that something (or someone) has prompted you to look at an old spot for the first time. ...

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