What Is Melanoma?

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.

Signs & Symptoms: Often, 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.

Who Gets Melanoma?

Anyone can get melanoma. Most people who get it have light skin, but people who have brown and black skin also get melanoma.

Some people have a higher risk of getting melanoma. These people have the following traits:


  • 50-plus moles, large moles, or unusual-looking moles.
  • Fair skin (The risk is higher if the person also has red or blond hair and blue or green eyes).
  • Sun-sensitive skin (rarely tans or burns easily).

If you have had bad sunburns or spent time tanning (sun, tanning beds, or sun lamps), you also have a higher risk of getting melanoma.

Family/Medical History

  • A weakened immune system
  • Melanoma runs in the family (parent, child, sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle had melanoma).
  • You had another skin cancer, but most especially another melanoma.

More People Getting Melanoma

Fewer people are getting most types of cancer. Melanoma is different. More people are getting melanoma. Many are white men who are 50 years or older. More young people also are getting melanoma. Melanoma is now the most common cancer among people 25-29 years old. Even teenagers are getting melanoma.

What Causes Melanoma?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major contributor in most cases. We get UV radiation from the sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps. Heredity also plays a role. Research shows that if a close blood relative (parent, child, sibling, aunt, uncle) had melanoma, a person has a much greater risk of getting melanoma.

Prevention: 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 dermatologist:

  • 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)

Treatment Options: The best treatment is early detection! Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on your medical history and the size, shape, and location of the melanoma. Treatment usually includes surgical excision performed in the dermatologist’s office. Depending on the location and size of the melanoma, Mohs micrographic surgery may be recommended. Examination by the trained eye of a dermatologist can help to determine whether or not a lesion is suspicious for melanoma.

To diagnose and treat, call us today! 610-789- SKIN(7546) to schedule a personalized consultation.