What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes, specialized cells in the skin that produce the brown pigment known as melanin. These are the cells that darken when exposed to the sun, a protective response to protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
Melanoma is highly curable if caught early, but is much more likely than other forms of skin cancer to spread if left untreated.
Melanoma accounts for approximately 5% of all skin cancers. The American Cancer Society, one of the country’s leading resources for cancer information, estimates that approximately 70,230 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2011, and the incidence rate is increasing.
The lifetime risk of developing melanoma is highest in Caucasians (1 in 50), while approximately 1 in 1,000 blacks and 1 in 200 Hispanics will develop this disease. While the risk of melanoma increases with age, it can occur in younger people, and is one of the more common cancers in young adults.