Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer that develops in cells that produce melanin (melanocytes), which give skin its color. Skin cancer is a life threatening condition, but it can be fully treated if detected early. Symptoms of melanoma include a change to an existing mole or the development of an abnormal growth on the skin. Mole changes that may indicate melanoma include asymmetrical shape, an irregular border, change in color, and change in size (larger than ¼ inch diameter). Although melanoma generally occurs in places with a lot of sun exposure, it can also occur in other areas, especially in people with darker skin. This type of melanoma, called hidden melanoma, can occur under a nail, in the mouth, or on the bottom of the foot. The cause of melanoma is not completely clear, but it is likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. UV radiation, from the sun or tanning beds, is considered the leading cause of melanoma. Risk factors include fair skin, a history of sunburn, excessive UV light exposure, living at high elevation, unusual number of moles, family history of melanoma, and a weakened immune system.
A doctor, usually a dermatologist, can identify signs of melanoma by examining the skin. Removal (biopsy) and examination under the microscope (pathology) of the affected area is used to confirm the diagnosis. Like many forms of cancer, there are many treatment options available. Early-stage melanomas are usually removed entirely during the biopsy and require no further treatment. Melanomas that have spread beyond the skin, to lymph nodes or other parts of the body, will need additional treatments which may include surgery to remove affected lymph nodes, chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy the cancer cells, biological therapy to boost the immune system, and targeted therapy. If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, speak with your doctor about the current treatment options.