What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a kind of
skin cancer. It is not as common as other types of skincancer, but it is the
Melanoma can affect your skin only, or it may
spread to your organs and bones. As with other cancers, treatment for melanoma works best when the cancer is found early.
This topic is about melanoma that occurs in the skin. It does not cover melanoma that occurs in the eye or in any other part of the body besides the skin.
What causes melanoma?
You can get melanoma by
spending too much time in the sun. Too much sun exposure causes normal skin cells to become
abnormal. These abnormal cells quickly grow out of control and attack the
tissues around them.
Melanoma tends to run in families. Other
things in your family background can increase your chances of getting the
disease. For example, you may have abnormal, or atypical, moles. Atypical moles
may fade into the skin and have a flat part that is level with the skin. They
may be smooth or slightly scaly, or they may look rough and "pebbly." Having many atypical moles increases your risk of melanoma. Also, it may be a sign that melanoma runs in your family.
What are the symptoms?
The main sign of melanoma
is a change in a mole or other skin growth, such as a birthmark. Any change in
color of a mole may be a sign of melanoma.
Melanoma may grow in a mole or birthmark that you already have. But
melanomas may grow in unmarked skin. They can be found anywhere on your
body. Most of the time, they are on the upper back in men and women and on the
legs of women.
Melanoma may look like a flat, brown or black mole
that has uneven
edges. Melanomas usually have an irregular or
asymmetrical shape. This means that one half of the mole doesn't match the
other half. Melanoma moles or marks may be any size, but they are usually
6 mm (0.25 in.) or larger.
Unlike a normal mole or mark, a melanoma can:
- Change color, size, or the shape of its border.
- Be lumpy or
- Become crusty, ooze, or bleed.
How is melanoma diagnosed?
Your doctor will check
your skin to look for melanoma. If your doctor thinks you have melanoma, he or
she will remove a sample of tissue from the area around the melanoma
(biopsy). Another doctor, called a
pathologist, will look at the tissue to check for
If your biopsy shows melanoma, you may need to have
more tests to find out if it has spread to your
How is it treated?