Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it has a tendency to spread quickly to other parts of the body (metastasize). Most melanomas appear as dark growths similar to moles, but some may be pink, red or skin-colored. Melanoma is very treatable when detected early, but can be fatal if allowed to spread throughout the body. The goal is to detect melanoma early, when it is still on the surface of the skin.
- The incidence of many common cancers is falling, but the incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, at a rate faster than that of any of the seven most common cancers.
- Approximately 68,720 melanomas will be diagnosed this year, with nearly 8,650 resulting in death.
- Melanoma accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases, but it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.
- Melanoma mortality increased by about 33 percent from 1975–90, but has remained relatively stable since 1990.
- Survival with melanoma increased from 49 percent between 1950 and 1954 to 92 percent between 1996 and 2003.
- More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma. One person dies of melanoma almost every hour (every 62 minutes).
- The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the epidermis, is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.
- Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer for males and sixth most common for females.
- Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.
- Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
- About 65 percent of melanoma cases can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
- One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.
- One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- A person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.
Sometimes the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking". More advanced melanoma may have a hard or lumpy texture. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed, but are usually not painful.
Excessive sun exposure, especially severe blistering sunburns during childhood or use of tanning beds can cause melanoma. Early detection and treatment are critical to a successful recovery. We recommend that you get an annual full body skin check with your dermatologist. Monthly self-exams are important for anyone at risk for developing skin cancer. Watch for these changes in moles and report them to your doctor:
- Asymmetry with one half of a mole a different shape than the other half
- Border edge is ragged, notched or blurred
- Color is uneven with a variety of hues in the same mole, with areas of black, brown, tan, white, grey, red, pink or blue
- Diameter increases to a size larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4-inch)
The best treatment is early detection! Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on your medical history and the depth and location of the melanoma. Depending on the size of the tumor, a referral to a surgeon who specializes in cancer surgery may be recommended. Examination by a dermatologist can help to determine whether or not a lesion is suspicious for melanoma.