Skin Cancer (Melanoma)
When cancer forms in the skin cells that make pigment, it is called melanoma. Melanoma begins in melanocytes, or the cells that make melanin. Melanoma usually begins in a mole.
Melanoma is the most serious type of cancer of the skin. Each year in the United States, more than 53,600 people learn they have melanoma.
Melanoma is becoming more common every year. In the United States, for example, the percentage of people who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the past 30 years.
Estimated new cases and deaths from melanoma in the United States each year:
- New cases: 59,940
- Deaths: 8,110
Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.”
Thinking of “ABCD” can help you remember what to watch for:
- Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other.
- Border: The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Color: The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.
- Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).
Melanomas in an early stage may be found when an existing mole changes slightly, for example, when a new black area forms. Newly formed fine scales and itching in a mole also are common symptoms of early melanoma. In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. For example, it may become hard or lumpy. Melanomas may feel different from regular moles. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed. But melanomas usually do not cause pain.
People with melanoma may have surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, or radiation therapy. Patients may have a combination of treatments.