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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Skin Cancer, Melanoma - Topic Overview

Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer. It isn't as common as other types of skin cancer, but it is the most serious.

Melanoma usually looks like a flat mole with uneven edges and a shape that is not the same on both sides. It may be black, brown, or more than one color. Most melanomas show up as a new spot or skin growth. But they can form in an existing mole or other mark on the skin.

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 doesn't cover melanoma that occurs in the eye or in any other part of the body besides the skin.

You can get melanoma by spending too much time in the sun. Too much UV radiation from sun exposure causes normal skin cells to become abnormal. These abnormal cells quickly grow out of control and attack the tissues around them.

You are at higher risk for melanoma if you have fair skin, a family history of melanoma, or many abnormal, or atypical, moles. These 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."

You may not have any symptoms in the early stages of melanoma. Or a melanoma may be sore, or it may itch or bleed.

Any change in the shape, size camera.gif, or color camera.gif of a mole may be a sign of melanoma.

Melanoma may look like a flat, brown or black mole that has uneven edges camera.gif. Melanomas usually have an irregular or asymmetrical shape. This means that one half of the mole doesn't match the other half. They may be any size but are usually 0.25 in. (6 mm) or larger.

Melanomas 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.

Your doctor will check your skin to look for melanoma. If your doctor thinks that you have melanoma, he or she will remove a sample of tissue (biopsy) from the area around the melanoma. Another doctor, called a pathologist, will look at the tissue to check for cancer cells.

If your biopsy shows melanoma, you may need to have more tests to find out if it has spread to your lymph nodes.

The most common treatment is surgery to remove the melanoma. That is all the treatment that you may need for early-stage melanomas that have not spread to other parts of your body.

Other treatments for melanoma include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 29, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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