Skin Cancer

Malignant Melanoma

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with more than one million new cases diagnosed every year. The good news is that with early detection and intervention, most are curable.

Malignant Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that gives our skin color and causes our skin to tan. Clusters of melanocytes are found in moles. Doctors also refer to moles as nevi.

Moles are very common. Moles can be flat or raised and can vary in size, shape and color. They may be present at birth or may appear later in life. Congenital nevi are moles that we have had since birth and carry an increased risk of developing into Malignant Melanoma.

Malignant Melanoma can be triggered by repetitive sun exposure or by inheriting certain genes from your parents. The incidence of melanoma is rising. People at increased risk for getting melanoma include:

  1. Individuals with a light complexion (freckles), light hair color or with blue, green, or gray eyes
  2. Individuals with a history of a severe sunburn before age 20
  3. Individuals with a family history of Malignant Melanoma or other skin cancer
  4. Individuals with multiple nevi or a typical nevi

However, anyone with any skin color or from any ethnic background can develop Malignant Melanoma. A report from the National Cancer Institute appearing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (JID) reveals a startling Malignant Melanoma trend among young Caucasian women born after 1960. It is unclear whether the increased incidence of Malignant Melanoma relates to the thinning of the ozone layer or increased exposure to natural sunlight or ultraviolet rays in tanning booths.

To find out if your mole could be a Malignant Melanoma, a Dermatologist will need to examine you. If your mole is suspicious appearing, your doctor will likely take a small sample of it (biopsy).

Early diagnosis and removal of the suspicious or cancerous mole is crucial! Once melanoma has spread, the chance of cure drops dramatically. Tell your doctor if you have any new moles or existing moles that are changing.

Once the doctor takes a biopsy of the mole it is sent to a Dermatopathologist who can make the diagnosis of a Malignant Melanoma based upon microscopic examination. If a Malignant Melanoma is diagnosed early, surgical removal is curative.

Don't wait; visit your Dermatologist today!