Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. Melanomas typically occur in the skin, but, may also occur in the mouth, eye or intestines.

Symptoms Of Melanoma

Early signs of melanoma are related to changes in shape or color of existing moles, or the development of new ones. Early signs of melanoma are generally identified by the mnemonic ABCDE:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color variation
  • Diameter greater than 6 mm
  • Evolution over time

Early signs of melanoma may develop from existing moles or may resemble moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. During later stages, a melanoma may itch or bleed. If a melanoma is diagnosed and treated in its early stages, it is usually curable; however, during later stages, it can rapidly spread to other parts of the body, become hard to treat and possibly be fatal.

Causes Of Melanoma

What causes melanoma is not known, although there are many suspected risk factors, including:

  • Familial tendency to develop freckles or prominent/atypical moles
  • Presence of many freckles, moles, large moles or atypical moles
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation
  • Overexposure to sunlight prior to age 18
  • Caucasian ancestry, with fair skin
  • Sun sensitivity or poor tanning ability
  • Immune-system deficiency
  • Previous melanoma

Although Caucasian ancestry is a suspected risk factor, all races and skin tones are susceptible to melanoma.

Treatment For Melanoma

Treatment for melanoma depends on its location, thickness (Breslow depth) and progression, as well as the patient's age, health, medical history and preferences. A biopsy is performed to determine the extent of the cancer. Most often, the appropriate treatment is surgery. This includes removal of the melanoma and reconstruction of the defect. Reconstruction may involve a local flap or a skin graft.

Other possible treatments may include lymph node biopsy and chemotherapy as well as biologic therapy, which includes interferon, cytokines and monoclonal antibodies.

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