Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Melanoma information

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes, which are specialized cells in the skin that produce the brown pigment known as melanin. These are the cells that darken when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, a protective response to shield the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Melanoma occurs when the body cannot repair damage to the melanocytes' DNA, allowing the cells to divide and grow uncontrollably. DNA damage in melanocytes may be linked to a variety of factors, including genetics and skin type. But most cases of melanoma are caused by overexposure to UV light produced by the sun or tanning beds.

Melanoma may appear as a dark spot or wound that does not heal, or one that grows, changes shape or bleeds. Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma may develop on parts of the body not usually exposed to sunlight, such as the soles of the feet or the groin. Melanoma is also more likely to travel to distant organs. Metastatic melanoma is more likely to be found in the brain, bones, liver or lungs.

Learn more about skin cancer

Melanoma incidence

Melanoma is the fifth most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 85,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Melanoma accounts for about 2 percent of the more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year, but it is responsible for most skin cancer deaths. While the risk of melanoma increases with age, it also occurs in younger people and is among the more common cancers in young adults.

Top questions about melanoma

Get answers to important questions about melanoma.

Melanoma types

Learn about the different types of melanoma.

Melanoma symptoms

Read about common melanoma symptoms.

Melanoma risk factors

Read about common risk factors for melanoma.

Melanoma stages

Learn about the stages of melanoma.

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