- Melanoma is a skin cancer that begins in cells
- Melanocytes can grow together to form benign
(not cancerous) moles.
- A change in size, shape, or color of a mole can
be a sign of melanoma. Other symptoms of a malignant (cancerous) mole include itching, bleeding, and scaliness.
- Melanoma can be cured if detected early before
spread (metastasis) to other areas of the body.
- Diagnosis of melanoma is confirmed with a biopsy
of the abnormal skin.
- To determine the stage of the melanoma, the doctor will need to determine the thickness of the melanoma and check if the melanoma has spread.
- Treatment of melanoma depends on the extent of
disease and the patient's age and general health.
- The prognosis of melanoma depends upon a melanoma's thickness, the depth of penetration of the skin, the extent to which it has spread, and certain characteristics of the tumor such as its mitotic rate and the presence of ulceration.
- Sun exposure can cause skin damage that can lead
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It begins in cells in the skin called melanocytes. To understand
melanoma, it is helpful to know about the skin and about melanocytes -- what they do, how they grow, and what happens when they become
The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects
against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. It helps regulate
body temperature, stores water and fat, and produces vitamin D.
The skin has two main layers: the outer epidermis and the inner
- The epidermis is mostly made up of flat, scalelike
cells called squamous cells. Round cells called basal cells lie
under the squamous cells in the epidermis. The lower part of the
epidermis also contains melanocytes.
- The dermis contains blood vessels, lymph vessels,
hair follicles, and glands. Some of these glands produce sweat,
which help regulate body temperature. Other glands produce sebum,
an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Sweat
and sebum reach the skin's surface through tiny openings called
Melanocytes and moles
Melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural
color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes produce more pigment,
causing the skin to tan, or darken.
Sometimes, clusters of melanocytes and surrounding tissue form
noncancerous growths called moles. (Doctors also call a mole a nevus; the
plural is nevi.) Moles are very common. Most people have between 10 and 40
moles. Moles may be pink, tan, brown, or a color that is very close to the
person's normal skin tone. People who have dark skin tend to have dark
moles. Moles can be flat or raised. They are usually round or oval and
smaller than a pencil eraser. They may be present at birth or may appear
later on -- usually before age 40. They tend to fade away in older people. When
moles are surgically removed, they normally do not return.