Melanoma: Putting It All Together

Here is a summary of the important facts and information related to melanoma.

  • Malignant melanoma is a rare but serious form of skin cancer. It is caused primarily by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun – especially sunburn.
  • The incidence of melanoma can run in families. Individuals can have a predisposition to develop skin cancer.
  • Anyone can get malignant melanoma. Risk factors include family history of melanoma, number and type of moles, personal history of melanoma, excessive exposure to the sun, severe sunburns, use of drugs that suppress the immune system, and advanced age.
  • Changes in moles or freckles can indicate skin cancer.
  • Melanomas are most often identified by the individual through skin self-examination or by a doctor during a routine physical examination. A biopsy is the only way to confirm the presence of melanoma.
  • Melanoma that is diagnosed and treated very early has an excellent cure rate. However, melanoma can rapidly spread into lower layers of the skin, then to lymph nodes and internal organs.
  • Melanoma is often painless and usually produces only two signs: a change in the size, color, shape, or feel of an existing mole, and/or the appearance of a new growth or mole on the skin.
  • Most skin cancers that are diagnosed in the early stages can be treated with surgery. Chemotherapy, biological therapy, and radiation therapy can be used if the cancer has moved into the more advanced stages. People with melanoma may also choose to participate in clinical trials of experimental therapies.
  • Once a person has had melanoma, she or he should continue with regular self-examinations and medical checkups.
  • Melanoma can be prevented by limiting exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Practical prevention measures include avoiding sunburns, avoiding overexposure to direct and reflected sunlight, shielding the skin from the sun with clothing and hats, and using broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF.
  • Melanoma has a high cure rate if it is diagnosed in the earliest stage.
  • A routine skin self-examination is important for early detection of melanoma and in follow-up care of individuals treated for melanoma.
  • Some people may inherit an abnormal gene from their parents that increases the risk of melanoma.
  • Scientists don’t know for certain whether the use of sunscreen prevents melanoma, but it does protect the skin from the harmful UV rays that cause the cancer.
  • Determining the stage of melanoma is important in selecting the best treatment.

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