Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in specialized skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for providing brown pigment to the skin. Among the three types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most aggressive and also the most serious. Metastatic melanoma refers to a disease that has spread from its original lesion site to deeper parts of the skin, and eventually to other parts of the body distant to the primary lesion site.
In 2011, more than 70,230 people in the United States were estimated to be diagnosed with melanoma. It is currently the fastest growing cancer, both in the United States and worldwide. While melanoma is very treatable when caught in the early stages, it is the cause of almost 8700 deaths annually.
Who Is More At Risk
Melanoma risk factors include the following:
Sensitivity to the sun: Melanoma occurs most often in people with fair, freckled skin who sunburn easily and have red or blond hair with gray or blue eyes. People who have had 1 or more blistering sunburns before the age of 16 are also at greater risk. Melanoma is not common in people with dark skin. However, dark-skinned people are not immune to melanoma and tend to develop the cancer on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, in their eyes and under the fingernails and toenails.
Personal and family history: People who have had cancer in the past have a greater risk of developing melanoma. People with a family history of melanoma are also more likely to develop the disease. Ten percent of all melanoma patients have family members who also have had melanoma.
Abnormal moles: A dysplastic nevus (a type of mole that looks different from a common mole) can increase the risk of melanoma. These moles can appear anywhere on the body.
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