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MAIN Arrow to HealthHealth Arrow to DiseaseDiseases Arrow to CancerCancer Arrow to MelanomaMelanoma

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No one knows what causes this most serious form of skin cancer, but there is evidence that points to prolonged exposure to sunlight as a main culprit in the increased number of cases reported in recent years.

Melanoma normally begins as a harmless mole on the face, arms or trunk. People with fairer skin, or who have a family history of melanoma, are more likely to develop the disease. In people 59 years of age or older, mole-like growths may also eventually result in scalp or neck melanomas.

Although melanoma has been most associated with middle age, today the number of incidences of melanoma among teen girls and young women have also soared. The suspected reason is the current rage for tanning beds and sunbathing - in an ironic attempt by a younger population to achieve at least the appearance of glowing health, say researchers. According to one 2010 US study, frequent use of tanning beds was seen to triple the risk of getting melanoma,

Types of melanoma & early detection

The most common melanoma is referred to as superficial spreading melanoma which, as the name suggests, usually forms on the skin's uppermost layer before it becomes invasive. A typical sign is when a mole begins to change shape, darken, or otherwise change color.

The most common technique for detecting superficial spreading melanoma is the acronym ABCDE:

• Asymmetrical skin lesion
• Border of area is irregular
• Color varies from brown, to tan or pink (with cracking, bleeding, and/or itching)
• Diameter of mole is greater than 6mm
• Evolution of mole, a sign of malignancy

Similar to the superficial spreading type is lentigo melanoma, which develops slowly and begins as a flat or slightly elevated tan or dark brown growth most commonly seen in the elderly who have severely sun damaged skin.

Also slow to spread, acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common seen in African-Americans and Asians, and usually appears as a black or brown discoloration under the nails, on the palms of the hands, or the soles of the feet.

Melanoma prevention and treatment

Nodular melanoma is a rare though fast-growing form of the disease

Early detection is important because if allowed to develop, the cancer becomes more difficult to treat, and may even begin to spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal. If recognized and treated in its early stages, there is a successful outcome in almost all cases following a simple outpatient surgical procedure that excises or cuts away the melanoma from the skin surface.

Early treatment and detection for nodular melanoma - a rarer form of the disease which is more aggressive and faster growing - is of the utmost importance since it is usually becomes invasive from its earliest stages.

To decrease the risk of developing skin cancer in all of its forms, most experts suggest limiting exposure to the sun by wearing clothing that protects the arms, legs and head from damaging UV rays. The use of sunscreen with a maximum SPF of 30 and avoidance of tanning salons is also highly recommended. If there is suspicion that a mole or blemish has recently changed shape or color, consult with your doctor as soon as possible.

More about melanoma symptoms & treatment around the Web

From expert sites on the Web, learn more about melanoma with information on self-exams and other ways to decrease risk - plus more on early diagnosis and staging, treatment options, and related research and statistics on the disease that the American Cancer Society estimates will total more than 60,000 new cases this year ....

How to detect and prevent melanoma 


Melanoma Patients' Information Page - Join the discussion on one of the largest message boards online for melanoma patients, caregivers, family and friends. Give advice or pose a question on staging & diagnosis, testing, treatment and prevention.

Skin Cancer (Including Melanoma)—Patient Version - Check out an online booklet from the National Cancer Institute with facts & information on risk factors, symptoms & diagnosis testing, how to prepare for treatment with discussions on surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other therapies and their side effects, how to perform a skin self-exam and where to find online support.

Treatment of Melanoma by Stage - Here's a fact sheet from the American Cancer Society with details on melanoma stage I, II, III and IV as well as treatment options for recurrent melanomas.

This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.

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