Williams Cancer Institute

Melanoma

What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from the melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. It often appears as a dark mole or spot on the skin but can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the eyes or mucous membranes.

Causes of Melanoma
The primary cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds. Other risk factors include having fair skin, a history of sunburns, a family history of melanoma, having many moles or atypical moles, and a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of Melanoma
Melanoma usually presents as a new mole or a change in an existing mole. The ABCDE rule can help identify potential signs of melanoma:
 Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
– Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
– Color: The color of the mole is not uniform and may include shades of brown, black, red, white, or blue.
– Diameter: The mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 millimeters), although melanomas can be smaller.
– Evolving: The mole changes in size, shape, color, or elevation, or if new symptoms develop such as itching or bleeding.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Risk factors for melanoma include excessive sun exposure, especially with a history of sunburns, indoor tanning, having fair skin, having many moles or atypical moles, a family history of melanoma, a weakened immune system, and certain genetic factors.

Prevention of Melanoma

Prevention of melanoma primarily involves minimizing exposure to UV radiation from sunlight and tanning beds. This includes wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with a high SPF, seeking shade during peak sun hours, avoiding indoor tanning, and regularly examining the skin for any changes or new moles. Early detection through regular skin self-exams and annual skin screenings by a dermatologist can also help detect melanoma at its earliest and most treatable stages.

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