What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It starts in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes make the brown substance that gives skin its color. So melanomas are usually a dark color. The cancer can start in normal skin or in a mole Moles Moles are small skin growths that can be anywhere on your body. They are usually dark in color and are round or oval. Almost everyone has some moles. Moles often first appear when you are a... read more .
Melanoma usually starts as a new, small, dark-colored growth on a sun-exposed part of your skin
Melanoma can also start in a part of your body that doesn’t get sunlight, like the inside of your mouth
The cancer spreads easily to other parts of the body where it destroys tissue and is often fatal
To diagnose melanoma, doctors do a biopsy, which is taking out a small sample of the tissue to look at it under a microscope
If your melanoma is diagnosed early enough, surgery Surgery for Cancer Cancer surgery is when doctors operate on you to cut out your cancer. Usually, doctors operate only when: The cancer hasn't spread (metastasized) anywhere Your body is strong enough to go through... read more can usually cure it
Melanoma isn't nearly as common as other skin cancers. However, it's more deadly.
Who is at risk for melanoma?
These risk factors make you more likely to get melanoma:
Use of tanning beds
Family members with melanoma or many moles with different shapes
Fair skin and freckles
Large number of moles with different shapes or color
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
Melanomas can vary in the way they look. They can be:
Flat brown patches with a ragged border and small black spots
Raised brown patches with red, white, black, or blue spots
Firm red, black, or gray lumps
Melanoma is less common in dark-skinned people. If a dark-skinned person does get melanoma, it's often under the fingernails or toenails or on the palms or soles of the feet.
Symptoms of melanoma are any skin growth that is:
Inflamed (red and swollen)
Spotty and changing color
Bleeding, or the skin over it breaks open
Itchy, tender, or painful
How can doctors tell if I have melanoma?
Doctors will do a biopsy (cut out a small sample of your tissue to look at under a microscope).
ABCDEs of melanoma
The warning signs of melanoma are sometimes called the ABCDEs of melanoma. The letters ABCDE stand for:
Asymmetry: the two halves of the skin growth aren't the same shape
Borders: the skin growth has a ragged border or blends into the surrounding skin
Color: the skin growth changes color, especially to brown, black, red, white, blue or a color different or darker than your other moles
Diameter: the skin growth is wider than a quarter inch (larger than the size of a pencil eraser)
Evolution: the skin growth appears when you're more than 30 years old, or has grown or changed recently
How do doctors treat melanoma?
Doctors treat melanoma with surgery Surgery for Cancer Cancer surgery is when doctors operate on you to cut out your cancer. Usually, doctors operate only when: The cancer hasn't spread (metastasized) anywhere Your body is strong enough to go through... read more by cutting out the skin growth and at least a half inch of skin around the cancer. If surgery isn’t possible, your doctor may give you medicine, try killing the growth with extreme cold (cryotherapy), or give you radiation Radiation Therapy Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink cancer tumors. Doctors use radiation to treat many types of cancer, including head, neck... read more .
If the melanoma spreads to other parts of your body, your doctor may try:
Medicines that help your immune system kill the cancer
Medicines that find and kill melanoma cancer cells
How can I prevent melanoma?
You can help prevent melanoma by limiting sun exposure:
Stay out of the sun—sit in the shade, try to avoid the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm
Don't sunbathe or use tanning beds
Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats with broad brims
Use sunscreen that’s at least 30 sun protection factor (SPF)—it's important to use more sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating
Visit your doctor at least once per year for a skin exam if you:
Have had melanoma before
Have many moles
See a doctor if you see a change in a skin growth that doesn't go away after a few weeks.