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What is Melanoma?
Q. What is melanoma?
Q. Can anyone get melanoma ?
Q. How do I know if I have melanoma?
Q. Do people die of melanoma?
Q. What causes melanoma?
Q. What are the treatments for melanoma?


What is melanoma?

Melanoma, also known as malignant melanoma, is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.  There are two main types of tumors: benign and malignantMalignant tumors are cancerous and may spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.   Benign tumors do not metastasize to other locations.   

In addition to melanoma, there are two other main forms of skin cancer:  basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  These two types of cancers rarely  metastasize and, therefore, only rarely cause death.

Melanoma is a malignancy of the melanocyteMelanocytes are normal cells of the skin that produce melanin, the pigment of the skin.  Malignant melanocytes can penetrate all layers of the skin.  In addition,  the malignant melanocytes can detach from the original tumor, also known as the primary site, and may spread to other parts of body through the blood or lymph.

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Can anyone get melanoma ?

Yes, melanoma can affect men and women of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds.  But, there are some risk factors that can influence the likelihood of developing a melanoma.

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How do I know if I have melanoma?

A melanoma can  be diagnosed ONLY by a  physician.  A physician must remove all or part of a suspicious mole and have it examined in a laboratory by a pathologist.  This process is also known as taking a biopsy.

You can help yourself and your physician in the early detection of a melanoma by performing monthly self-skin examinations.   The Check Your Skin campaign is devoted to teaching the public about melanoma and about the importance of the monthly self-skin examination.  

Self-skin examination reminder cards are available through this website, at Check Your Skin workshops, or in various locations of the community.  

Please contact the Check Your Skin project in order to have a volunteer visit your group, organization or school for a free workshop.

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Do people die of melanoma?

Yes, unfortunately. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, there are a total of 76,250 estimated new cases of melanoma in 2012 and 9,180 estimated deaths.

Fortunately, survival rates for people  treated for early melanoma is 96%.  The five-year survival rate is only 13% for people who have advanced, metastatic melanoma.  Therefore, early detection of melanoma increases survival. 

Early detection can begin with YOU by performing monthly self-skin examinations and immediately reporting ANY suspicious changes to your physician.

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What causes melanoma?

The exact cause of melanoma is not known.  There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing melanoma. 

Genetic Factors: fair skin, red hair, and freckles

Environmental Factors: increased sun exposure at any time during life, sunburns, especially early on in life

Immunity Factors: patients with immune suppression including patients on chemotherapy or transplant medications

Family History: people with multiple family members previously diagnosed with malignant melanoma

Number of Moles: people with numerous moles

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What are the treatments for melanoma?

Surgical excision is the ideal treatment for a superficial melanoma limited to the skin.  A melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes, and other organs usually requires surgical exploration with possible chemotherapy and/or radiation.

The development of a melanoma vaccine for treatment, not prevention, is being studied at a variety of medical centers, but  a vaccine has not yet been perfected.

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