Alternate Names : Skin Cancer (Melanoma)
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It is an aggressive skin cancer that can
spread to other parts of the body. The incidence of melanoma has been
increasing over the last several decades.
What is going on in the body?
Melanocytes are pigment cells that are usually found in the skin.
They produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives skin its color. Clusters
of melanocytes and surrounding skin sometimes form moles. Moles are benign, or
noncancerous, growths. Most people have between 10 to 40 moles on their skin.
Moles may be brown, pink, or tan. Moles may be flat or raised and are usually
round or oval.
Melanoma, on the other hand, is a cancerous growth. It occurs when
pigment cells become malignant, divide without control, and invade the tissue
around them. Melanoma is usually found on visible skin but can also occur
inside the eye or around the anus. This kind of skin cancer is very aggressive.
Cancer cells from the tumor may enter the blood stream. They also may enter the
lymphatic system, which has tissues and organs that make and store cells to
fight infection. Cancer can spread to another part of the body and form new
destructive tumors. This spread of the disease is called metastasis.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Melanoma is strongly related to sun exposure. The incidence of
melanoma has increased as people spend more and more recreational time in the
sun. A history of blistering sunburns in childhood may significantly raise the
risk of melanoma.
Other risk factors that increase a person's risk for melanoma are:
fair skin, freckles, blue eyes, and light hair
giant congenital moles
more than 50 ordinary moles
a personal or family history of melanoma
weakened immune systems, as from
immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV
The peak incidence of melanoma occurs between ages 20 and