• Melanoma appears as dark, either brown or black, lesions.
  • Be observant of any moles changing size, shape, elevation, or color.

Also called malignant melanoma

  • Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.
  • Allowed to grow, melanoma can spread quickly to other parts of the body. This can be deadly.


Skin cancers like melanoma have damaged DNA (mutations) in skin cells that lead to uncontrolled growth of these cells. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds can cause mutations in DNA and is a major cause of melanoma. Many other factors also play a role in increasing the risk for melanoma including genetics (family history), skin type or color, hair color, freckling and number of moles on the body.

Understanding what causes melanoma and whether you’re at risk of developing the disease can help you prevent it or detect it early when it is easiest to treat and cure.

These factors increase your melanoma risk:

  • Unprotected or excessive UV exposurefrom the sun or tanning indoors.
  • Weakened immune systemdue to a medical condition or medications.
  • Many moles:The more moles you have on your body, the higher your risk for melanoma. Also, having large moles (larger than a tip of a pencil eraser) increases the risk for melanoma.
  • Fair skin:Melanoma occurs more frequently in people with fair skin.
  • Skin cancer history:People who have already had melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancers run a greater risk of developing the disease in the future.
  • Genetics:Melanoma can run in families – one in every 10 patients has a family member who’s also had the disease.


Finding melanoma at an early stage is crucial; early detection can vastly increase your chances for cure. Monthly Self-Exams and Annual Skin Checks done by a Dermatologist are recommended.

Look for anything new, changing or unusual on both sun-exposed and sun-protected areas of the body. Melanomas commonly appear on the legs of women, and the number one place they develop on men is the trunk. Keep in mind, though, that melanomas can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesn’t shine.

Most moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are harmless – but not always. The ABCDEs and the Ugly Duckling sign can help you detect melanoma.


To diagnose melanoma, a dermatologist biopsies the suspicious tissue and sends it to a lab, where a dermatopathologist determines whether cancer cells are present.

After the disease is diagnosed and the type of melanoma is identified, the next step is for your medical team to identify the stage of the disease. This may require additional tests including imaging such as PET scans, CT scans, MRIs and blood tests.

The stage of melanoma is determined by several factors, including how much the cancer has grown, whether the disease has spread (metastasized) and other considerations. Melanoma staging is complex, but crucial. Knowing the stage helps doctors decide how to best treat your disease and predict your chances of recovery.


While melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, promising new treatment options are improving quality of life and increasing survival rates for patients with advanced melanoma. If you’ve been diagnosed, your treatment choices depend on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor and your overall health. Options include:

  • Surgical removal of the melanoma
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

Ask your doctor to clearly explain the options that might work best for you, including details about the benefits and risks.