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Melanoma, also called Malignant Melanoma, is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.  This cancer can rise from already developed moles or appear as new lesions.  These growths are caused by damaged skin cells (usually damaged by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds) that mutate and rapidly multiply, forming malignant tumors.  The tumors form in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the skin.

Most melanomas appear black or brown, but they can also be skin colored, pink, red, purple, blue, or white.  They can form anywhere on the body including the mouth, back of the eyeball, under nails, and genitals.  Melanoma kills an estimated 10,000 people in the United States annually.

The good news is that, with early detection and treatment, melanoma is almost always curable.


Melanoma can show up on your body in different ways. You may see a:

  • Change to an existing mole
  • New spot or patch on your skin
  • A spot that looks like a changing freckle or age spot
  • Dark streak under a fingernail or toenail
  • Band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail
  • Slowly growing patch of thick skin that looks like a scar

Warning signs to look for

Dermatologists encourage people of all skin colors to perform skin self-exams. Checking your skin can help you find melanoma early when it’s highly treatable. When examining your skin for melanoma, you want to look for the warning signs, which are called the ABCDEs of melanoma:

A melanoma may only have 1 or 2 of the ABCDEs.  If you find anything that looks like it could be melanoma, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist. These doctors are the experts at diagnosing skin cancer.  Research shows that dermatologists correctly diagnose melanoma more than any other type of doctor.

Symptoms of melanoma

You can have melanoma without feeling any pain or discomfort. For many people, the only sign is a change to their skin, scalp, or nail.
Sometimes, melanoma causes one of more of the following:

  • Itch
  • Pain
  • Bleeding

Being proactive is one of the best tools in combating melanoma.  Perform self skin checks and create a body mole map.  When checking your skin, you want to make sure you check everywhere.

Melanoma: Who gets and causes

Who gets melanoma?
Anyone can get melanoma. Most people who get melanoma have light skin, but people who have brown and black skin also get melanoma.

Your risk of getting melanoma increases if you:

  • Use tanning beds. Using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 59%, and the risk increases with each use.
  • Had 5 or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20. Research shows this increases one’s risk of getting melanoma by 80%.
  • Live close to the equator. Sunlight is more intense there.
  • Live in a sunny area of the United States like Florida or Arizona.
  • Failed to protect your skin from the sun. People older than 65 may experience melanoma more frequently because of UV exposure they’ve received over the course of their lives. Men older than 50 also have a higher risk of developing melanoma.



While exposure to UV light greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma, your other characteristics also play a role. These include:

Having light-colored skin, hair, or eyes or certain moles.  The risk of getting melanoma increases if you have one or more of the following:

  • Fair skin
  • Red or blond hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Sun-sensitive skin
  • Skin that rarely tans or burns easily
  • 50 or more moles
  • Large moles
  • An atypical mole (mole that looks like melanoma)

Taking certain medications or having some medical conditions. Your risk of getting melanoma increases if you have:

  • Had melanoma or another type of skin cancer
  • Had another type of cancer, such as breast or thyroid cancer
  • A disease that weakens your immune system, such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • To take medicine to quiet your immune system, such as taking life-saving medicines to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery
  • Have a history of melanoma in your family: If a close blood relative has or had melanoma, you have a higher risk of getting melanoma.

Because UV exposure is the leading cause of melanoma, you can greatly reduce your risk of getting melanoma by taking steps to prevent skin cancer.

Melanoma in situ (superficial)



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