Melanoma

Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells and accounts for more than 50 percent of all cancers. In the US alone, more than 1 million Americans a year will be diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer, and 73,870 will be diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.

What are the different types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer, including:

NameDescription
basal cell carcinoma Basal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 75 percent of all skin cancers. This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin - mainly those areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It commonly occurs among persons with light-colored eyes, hair, and complexion.
squamous cell carcinoma Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 20 percent of all skin cancer cases. Although more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, this cancer is highly treatable. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin, and may be found on the face, ears, lips, and mouth. However, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is usually found in fair-skinned people.
malignant melanoma Malignant melanoma accounts for 3 percent of all skin cancers, and accounts for 75 percent of deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocytes - cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanomas usually begin as a mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but persons with all skin types may be affected.

Distinguishing benign moles from melanoma

To prevent melanoma, it is important to examine your skin on a regular basis, and become familiar with moles, and other skin conditions, in order to better identify changes. According to recent research, certain moles are at higher risk for changing into malignant melanoma. Moles that are present at birth, and atypical moles, have a greater chance of becoming malignant.

Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some melanomas may show all of the ABCD (asymmetry, border, color, diameter) characteristics, while other may only show changes in one or two characteristics. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Melanoma is a disease of the skin in which cancer cells are found in the melanocytes, the cells that produce color in the skin or pigment known as melanin. Melanoma usually occurs in adults, but it may occasionally be found in children and adolescents. Melanoma may also be called cutaneous melanoma or malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest, but most virulent, form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a more serious type of cancer than the more common basal cell cancer, or squamous cell cancer. Although the incidence of melanoma is lower than other types of skin cancer, it has the highest death rate and is responsible for a majority of all deaths from skin cancer.

Where is melanoma most often found?

Melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with other skin types can be affected. Rarely, melanomas can form in parts of the body not covered by skin such as the eyes, mouth, vagina, large intestine, and other internal organs.