Melanoma affects the melanocytes, or the melanin-producing skin cells responsible for the color of the skin. DNA changes in these cells cause the cells to divide and proliferate at an abnormally fast rate. The most common trigger for these changes is exposure to UV radiation, most commonly the UV-A and UV-B rays from sunlight, tanning beds, and tanning lamps. Genetic factors are also likely to play a role. Melanoma is the rarest type of skin cancer, accounting for less than 1 percent of all skin cancers, yet it's responsible for nearly all skin cancer-related deaths.
Melanoma can take different forms, but often, it resembles a common mole. Sometimes, an existing mole can become cancerous. Typically, melanoma growths can be evaluated using the “ABCDE” criteria:
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that any unusual or odd-looking lesion be evaluated as soon as possible so the most appropriate treatment can be provided.
Melanoma is diagnosed by taking a small tissue sample and evaluating it under a microscope. Different methods can be used depending on the size and appearance of the mole and other factors. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including areas that don't receive sun exposure. Having regular skin cancer screenings is the best way to identify melanoma in its earliest stages.
Some types of melanoma may be treated with surgery to remove the lesion, often accompanied by a biopsy of local lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread. Often, additional treatments are recommended, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and biologic therapy. The type of treatment used depends on the stage of the cancer and other factors.
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