The Mystery Of Melanoma

Armen Hareyan's picture

In the last 30 years, melanoma has become the fastest rising cancer, reaching epidemic proportions. It is also one cancer that we can prevent by limiting exposure to the sun and performing regular skin exams. Sun exposure and burns create a great risk for all skin cancers.

We get 80 percent of our sun exposure before age 18. The sun you get in your adolescence sets you up for developing melanoma in your forties or fifties. Yet the sun is the one risk factor we can control.

Melanoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in skin cells called melanocytes. These cells 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.

The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. The skin has 2 main layers: the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer).

There are 3 types of skin cancer:


Basil cell skin cancer.

Squamous cell cancer.

Five percent of these are the more aggressive skin cancers, melanoma.

80 percent of all skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are rarely life threatening.

Risk factors for melanoma include the following:

Unusual moles

exposure to natural sunlight.

exposure to artificial ultraviolet light from a tanning booth.

family or personal history of melanoma.

being white and older than 20 years.


red or blond hair.

white or light-colored skin and freckles.

blue eyes.

Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area.

These and other symptoms may be caused by melanoma or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

A mole that:

changes in size, shape, or color.

has irregular edges or borders.

is more than 1 color.

is asymmetrical

itches, oozes, bleeds, or is ulcerated.

change in pigmented skin.

new moles that grow near an existing mole.

The good news is that melanoma and other skin cancers can easily be detected. We recommend regular skin exams for anyone over 20 from a dermatologist or family doctor as well as self skin exams on a regular basis.

The danger in melanoma is when it spreads to the lymph nodes and then to other vital organs so early detection is vitally important.

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma it is critical to see specialists at a cancer center. These experts can manage the disease and have both a surgical and medical point of view. It truly matters how cancer is treated from the beginning.

Byy Saint John's Health Center