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Melanoma Skin Cancers
Bernard Gordon, MD and Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD
Although melanoma accounts for only about 4% of skin cancer cases, it causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.
Melanoma tends to occur at a younger age than most cancers; half of all melanomas are found in people under age 57, including adolescents. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 62,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States during 2007, of which almost 8,000 people are expected to die. Since 1973, the mortality rate for melanoma has increased by 50%. Much of this increase has been in older people, primarily white men.
Melanoma (meaning a black tumor) is a potentially deadly tumor, the most malignant type of skin cancer, and it is one of the most lethal cancers of any kind. It frequently arises in pigmented cells (melanocytes) of the epidermis (upper layer of skin) and can spread quickly to any part of the body.
- Risk factors:
- - A family or personal history of melanoma
- A light complexion
- A tendency to freckle
- A tendency to sunburn and a history of prior sunburns
- Any moles or birthmarks
- Unusual moles or birthmarks
- Having had high dose radiation
- - A change in color - lightening and/or darkening of a reddish, bluish, or grayish tinge.
- A growth or change in size, shape, or thickness.
- Irregularity of the margins of the growth.
- Itching, crusting, bleeding, erosion, or ulceration.
- Personal or family history of melanoma and/or dysplastic nevi, usually moles that look like melanoma under the microscope.
- Melanomas may develop in normal-looking skin or in dark or fleshy-colored moles.
Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, but when caught early and treated early, most patients do very well. Examine your skin regularly, especially for moles, as you become a responsible partner in your own health care.
In all three types of the disease, skin biopsies are necessary to confirm the diagnosis of cancer.
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