Cancer answers: What is melanoma?

Written by Community Health Network on 5/5/2014 7:00:00 AM

 Melanoma begins in the cells that produce pigment (melanocytes), which is why melanomas are often a multi-colored mix of tan, brown, black or blue. The pigment cells help protect the deeper layers of your skin from the sun.

When UV rays from natural (sun) or artificial (tanning beds) sources damage the DNA in skin, this can affect genes that control cell division and growth. When these genes don't work properly, melanoma may form. 

Although less common than other skin cancers, melanoma is the most serious kind of skin cancer, potentially causing death. However, almost 100 percent of melanomas - if found early - can be treated successfully. In later stages, melanoma can spread to vital organs, making treatment difficult, so it is essential to have any suspicious skin moles or sores evaluated by a doctor right away.

Signs and symptoms

  • Spots that look like a bruise 
  • Sores that don't heal 
  • Pigment spreading into surrounding skin 
  • Itching, tenderness or pain 
  • Oozing, bleeding or nodules on the surface of a mole 
  • Moles that just "look different" from others 
Diagnosis of melanoma involves going to your doctor for a biopsy of the affected skin. If melanoma is detected, surgery is often performed to remove the cancerous areas.

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