Melanoma 101: Introduction to a Deadly Skin Cancer
Alan Rockoff, MD
Dr. Rockoff received his undergraduate degree from Yeshiva College with the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. He received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. His internship and two years of Pediatric residency were at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, followed by training in Dermatology at the combined residency program at Tufts and Boston Universities. Dr. Rockoff is certified by both the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Pediatrics.
Frederick Hecht, MD, FAAP, FACMG
Frederick Hecht, MD, lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Hecht is a Pediatrician and Medical Geneticist and is certified by both the American Boards of Pediatrics and Medical Genetics. Dr. Hecht was born and raised in Baltimore and attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. and the Sorbonne at the University of Paris receiving his BA degree cum laude with distinction from Dartmouth.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
- Melanoma facts
- What does melanoma look like? What are the symptoms and signs?
- What if the skin changes are rapid or dramatic?
- What are the causes and risk factors for melanoma?
- How do I know my level of risk for melanoma?
- What are the types of melanoma?
- How is melanoma diagnosed?
- How do doctors determine the prognosis (outlook) of a melanoma?
- What is the treatment for melanoma?
- What methods are available to help prevent melanoma?
- What is in the future for melanoma?
- Additional Resources
- Skin Cancer (Melanoma) FAQs
- Patient Comments: Melanoma (Skin Cancer) - Symptoms
- Patient Comments: Melanoma (Skin Cancer) - Diagnosis
- Patient Comments: Melanoma (Skin Cancer) - Risk Factors and Causes
- Patient Comments: Melanoma (Skin Cancer) - Treatment
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
- Melanoma is a cancer that develops in pigment cells called melanocytes.
- Patients themselves are the first to detect many melanomas.
- Caught early, most melanomas can be cured with relatively minor surgery.
- Melanoma can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer, because it may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and cause serious illness and death.
- Spots suspicious for melanoma show one or more of the following features (the ABCDs): Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color changes, a Diameter more than the size of a pencil eraser.
- Elevated risk factors for melanoma include Caucasian (white) ancestry, fair skin, light hair and light-colored eyes, a history of intense sun exposure, close blood relatives with melanoma, and moles that are unusually numerous, large, irregular, or "funny looking."
- Doctors diagnose melanoma by biopsy (removing a piece of skin for analysis).
- The most common forms of melanoma are superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, and lentigo maligna.
- Treatment of melanoma is primarily by surgical removal.
- Changing or suspicious spots should be brought to medical attention right away.
Melanoma is a cancer that develops in melanocytes, the pigment cells present in the skin. It can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer because it may spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) and cause serious illness and death. About 50,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States every year.
Because most melanomas occur on the skin where they can be seen, patients themselves are often the first to detect many melanomas. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial. Caught early, most melanomas can be cured with relatively minor surgery.
This article is written from the standpoint of the patient. In other words, instead of describing the disease in exhaustive detail, I will try to help answer the questions: "How do I know if I have melanoma?" and "Should I should be checked for it?"
Spots on the skin
Guideline # 1: Nobody can diagnose him- or herself. If you see a spot that looks as though it is new or changing, show it to a doctor. When it comes to spots on the skin, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Everybody gets spots on their skin. The older we are, the more spots we have. Some of these are freckles, others are moles, and still others are made up of collections of tissue, such as blood vessels or pigment cells. Most of these spots are benign. That means they are neither cancerous nor on the way to becoming cancerous.
Guideline # 2: The vast majority of moles stay as moles and do not turn into anything else.
Some people are born with moles (the medical name is "nevus" plural "nevi"). Almost everyone develops them, starting in childhood. On the average, people have about 25 moles, though some have fewer and others many more. Moles may be flat or raised, and they may range in color from tan to light brown to black.
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