Melanoma, also referred to as malignant melanoma, is a serious form of skin cancer that can be life-threatening if not treated in a timely fashion. It has been found that the incidence of melanoma has been increasing in fair skinned populations worldwide in recent decades. Melanoma should be a concern for people of all ages.
Melanoma cells represent the cancerous change of the pigment-producing cells (melanocyte) of the body. In the skin, pigment-producing cells give us the natural color of our skin and also form the moles (nevi) on our skin. When these normal pigment-producing cells undergo a cancerous change, whether caused by ultraviolet radiation or other factors, melanoma develops.
The development of melanoma is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Some people have specific genes that place them more at risk for developing melanoma. Family history of melanoma is often useful in identifying these at-risk individuals. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds is also known to be a risk factor. Although usually associated with people with fair skin, melanoma occurs in all races and skin types.
Frequent monitoring of the skin and timely detection is key to the diagnosis and management of melanoma. In fact, people with a history of melanoma are strongly recommended to undergo frequent and routine skin checks with their dermatologist. Any mole that appears different from other moles, any mole that is new, or any mole that is changing needs to be evaluated by a dermatologist. Because melanoma can have varied presentations, the diagnosis of melanoma can be challenging from multiple levels. Diagnosis of melanoma needs to be confirmed with a tissue sample (biopsy).
The recommended treatment for melanoma depends on many factors including the stage of the melanoma, the type of melanoma, and the location of the melanoma. Early stage melanomas are often successfully treated with a standard surgical excision and in some instances Mohs micrographic surgery. Your dermatologist will make the most appropriate recommendations for management of your melanoma.
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