Melanoma is a type of skin cancer, which develops in the cells called melanocytes. These cells are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin. In women, melanoma is most often seen in the lower legs, while the most common site in men is the back.
Melanoma is responsible for the majority of deaths related to skin cancers. The exact cause of melanoma is not clear, but it is usually associated with DNA damage resulting from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun.
Some of the factors that may increase your risk of developing melanoma include:
- A fair skin tone due to less pigment (melanin), which means less protection from UV radiation
- Living in areas closer to the equator or at a higher elevation where sun exposure is greater
- Regular usage of tanning beds or lamp devices
- One or more episodes of blistering sunburn during childhood
- Presence of multiple moles or unusual moles on the skin
- A family history of melanoma
- A weakened immune system
People with no risk factors or darker skin can also develop melanoma. People with darker skin are more vulnerable to hidden melanomas in areas like the soles of feet and palms of hand that do not receive sun exposure.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Early detection helps in the treatment of melanoma. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, biologic and targeted therapies. If not detected early, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body and can be deadly.
Here are some of the warning signs and symptoms that you should not ignore.
One possible sign is a new mole appearing unexpectedly after the age of 21 that is asymmetrical, has an irregular outline and is bigger than 6 mm or ¼ inch in diameter. There can be one or more new moles.
An unusual skin spot
Another important warning sign of melanoma is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign).
Changes in a mole’s appearance
Changes in color, diameter, shape or size of an existing mole, birthmark, or a pigmented area can also be a sign of melanoma.
It can increase in size and appear pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored. Also, there can be symptoms like a scaly appearance, bleeding or oozing, or the appearance of a bump or nodule.