Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer and can be dangerous if not detected, diagnosed, and treated early. Although melanoma is far less common than nonmelanoma skin cancers, it is the cause of the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
Melanoma is an abnormal growth of cells called melanocytes, which are the skin cells that make pigment and give skin its natural color. It most often starts on the chest, back, head, or neck in men, and on the arms or legs in women, but melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin.
A growth that looks like a new mole and changes in existing moles are signs of melanoma, but occasionally, a melanoma doesn’t have any pigment in it. This is called an amelanotic melanoma.
It’s vitally important to know what your moles look like, to identify changes to existing moles, and to spot new ones. Checking your skin frequently for suspicious changes can help you detect melanoma early, which is crucial to successfully treating the disease.
The rates of melanoma in the United States have seen a significant increase in recent decades.
This may be due to a combination of increased sun exposure, more frequent early detection, and people living longer. Melanoma is far more common in people with white skin than in any other racial or ethnic group, but anyone of any skin color can develop melanoma.
It’s important to note that there's mounting evidence of a link between tanning bed use and skin cancer. Studies have shown that using a tanning bed can substantially increase the risk for all skin cancers, including melanoma.
Regularly checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect melanoma in its earliest stages and gives the greatest chance for successful treatment. If you find any suspicious skin changes or moles, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider immediately.