Melanoma Monday: Frequently Asked Questions About Melanoma

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, makes up a small percentage of these, but it accounts for a majority of skin cancer deaths. Around 73,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2015, according to American Cancer Society estimates. To help promote awareness for Melanoma Monday, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about melanoma.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancer that develops in a type of cell called a melanocyte. Melanocytes are found in the outermost layer of our skin, the epidermis.

Not all tumors that develop from melanocytes are cancerous. For instance, moles are a commonly occurring tumor that develop in melanocytes and are usually harmless. However, some moles can increase risk for developing melanoma.

Melanoma tumors are visible on the exterior of the skin and usually appear brown or, although some are pink, tan, white or other color. In men, melanoma is most commonly found in the chest and back. In women, melanoma is most common in the legs.

While skin cancers are the most widely diagnosed cancers in the United States, melanomas account for approximately 2 percent of these. However, melanomas cause a majority of skin cancer deaths.

Who is at risk for developing melanoma?

White individuals are much more likely to develop melanoma than individuals of other racial backgrounds. Lifetime risk for developing melanoma is around 2 percent for white patients compared to 0.1 percent for black patients.

Many cases of melanoma can be prevented. Melanoma is often directly caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, which is produced by the sun and tanning beds. Avoiding prolonged exposure to sunlight and using sun screen can help to prevent melanoma. Moles, fair skin, freckles and age can also be risk factors for melanoma.

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

Moles that appear abnormal and changing spots on the skin can be indicative of melanoma. Several signs to look for include:

  • Asymmetry – Lopsided moles and birthmarks can be a sign of melanoma.
  • Border – Moles with irregular, jagged or blurred edges can be a sign of melanoma.
  • Color – Moles that are not the same color all over can be a sign of melanoma.
  • Diameter – Moles larger than 6mm across can be a sign of melanoma.
  • Evolution – Changes in the size, shape or color of a mole can be a sign of melanoma.

Are there any screening exams for melanoma?

Melanoma is usually detected when a patient or physician notices an abnormality on the skin. Individuals should perform skin self-exam once per month to look for signs of melanoma. This consists of thoroughly examining your body and skin for the signs of melanoma listed above.

Physicians will also examine a patient’s skin during routine check-ups. Patients concerned with an abnormal mole or other spot on their skin should discuss these with their physician.

If you would like to learn more about melanoma or if you have questions about melanoma treatment, please contact us.

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