Melanoma is cancer that originates in skin cells called melanocytes, which produce melanin. Melanin is what gives our skin its color. If melanocytes sustain DNA damage, it can lead to a melanoma. These tumors are often dark in color, but can also appear lighter. Common sites for melanoma are the chest, back, legs, neck and face. But in some cases, it can appear on parts of the body that receive little sunlight exposure (like under the nail beds). If caught early, melanoma is usually curable. Even so, it represents one of the deadliest forms of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), new cases have been steadily on the rise for the last three decades. Every year, over 76,000 new melanomas are diagnosed in the United States.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that dermatologists typically use the A-B-C-D-E method for identifying abnormal moles – asymmetry, borders that are uneven, changes in color, a diameter larger than a quarter of an inch, and evolving shape, color, size, texture or elevation.
When it comes to melanoma, exposure to ultraviolet radiation represents a major risk factor. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), UV radiation from tanning beds increases the risk by 75 percent. Other risk factors, according to the ACS, include having a large amount of moles, having a light complexion, and having a family history of melanoma. Women are also at higher risk before age 40. While melanoma usually appears in older people, more and more people under 30 are being diagnosed every year.
When it comes to treatment, early-stage melanoma has an encouraging survival rate. According to the ACS, 95 percent of patients who treat it during its initial stage will likely be cancer-free 10 years later. Treating early-stage melanoma often involves removing it along with its surrounding skin and tissue. If the cancer is more advanced, chemotherapy and radiation may be explored.