Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease. Melanoma is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color. It can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance. Some moles that are present at birth may develop into melanomas.
The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people. You are more likely to develop melanoma if you:
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red or blond hair
- Live in sunny climates or at high altitudes
- Spent a lot of time in high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
- Have had one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- Use tanning devices
Other risk factors include:
- Close relatives with a history of melanoma
- Certain types of moles (atypical or dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication
A mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin can be a sign of melanoma or other skin cancer. A sore or growth that bleeds, or changes in skin coloring may also be a sign of skin cancer.
Surgery is needed to treat melanoma. The skin cancer and some surrounding tissue will be removed. How much skin is removed depends on how deep the melanoma has grown. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, these lymph nodes may also be removed. After surgery, you may receive a medicine called interferon.
Treatment is more difficult when the melanoma has spread to other organs. When it spreads to other organs, it usually cannot be cured. Treatment involves shrinking the skin cancer and making you as comfortable as possible. You may receive:
- Chemotherapy: Medicines are used to kill cancer cells. It is usually given if the melanoma has returned or spread.
- Immunotherapy: Medications such as interferon or interleukin help your immune system fight the cancer. They may be used along with chemotherapy and surgery.
- Radiation treatments: These may be used to relieve pain or discomfort caused by cancer that has spread.
- Surgery: Surgery may be done to remove cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. This is done to relieve pain or discomfort associated with the growing cancer.