Cancer Information


Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in cells in the pigment cells of the skin called melanocytes. These cells produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Each year in the United States, more than 53,600 people learn they have melanoma. In Western countries, melanoma is becoming more common every year. Melanoma is rare in dark skin people. Usually melanoma starts in the skin and this type of melanoma is called cutaneous melanoma.  Sometimes melanoma may occur in eyes (also known as ocular melanoma) and rarely melanoma may arise in the meninges, the digestive tract, and lymph nodes.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Severe sunburns and Ultraviolet rays: Much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. Even artificial sources of ultra violet rays are a risk factor for melanoma.

Fair skin: White people get melanoma far more often than do black people, probably because the sun more easily damages light skin.

Atypical moles (Dysplastic nevi) and increased number of moles- Abnormally colored usually larger atypical moles are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. The risk is especially high for people with a family history of both dysplastic nevi and melanoma. Having many moles (more then 50) increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Decreased immunity - People with decreased immunity as a result of HIV, drugs or any other cause are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Family history of melanoma: Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have a family member with this disease.

Previous history of melanoma: A previous history of melanoma or other skin cancer increases the risk of a recurrence.