What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancer of pigment producing-cells called melanocytes. These cells give each of us our unique skin color. Most melanomas originate on sun-exposed skin, though they can also develop in other parts of the body containing melanocytes, including the eyes and sun-shielded locations like mucous membranes or palms, soles, or under fingernails.

The ability to spread widely to other parts of the body is a unique characteristic of melanoma compared to the more common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma which only rarely do so. This characteristic makes melanoma the deadliest of all skin cancers.

What does Melanoma look like?

Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, can show up on your body in different ways. You may see a:

  • Change to an existing mole
  • New spot or patch on your skin
  • A spot that looks like a changing freckle or age spots
  • Dark streak under a fingernail or toenail
  • Band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail
  • A slowly growing patch of thick skin that looks like a scar

How do I protect myself from Melanoma?

Over 90% of all skin cancer is caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or indoor tanning devices. Americans can dramatically reduce their risk of skin cancer by:

– Not burning or tanning intentionally – no tan is a safe tan
– Seeking shade during peak times of the day
– Wearing sun-protective clothing
– Generously applying sunscreen (remember to reapply every two hours)
– Using extra caution near water, snow, and sand because the sun is reflected back up from the ground!