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What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It forms in cells called melanin that make skin color. Melanoma may appear as a new mole, or in moles you already have.

What increases my risk for melanoma?

  • Sun exposure
  • A family member has had melanoma
  • At least 1 blistering sunburn as a child or teenager
  • Light colored skin, hair, or eyes
  • Freckles or moles that increase or change
  • Skin that burns rather than tans when you are in the sun
  • Skin diseases, such as xeroderma pigmentosum

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

Melanoma is described based on the ABCDE system:

  • A symmetry means if a line is drawn through the middle of the mole, the 2 halves are not equal.
  • B order means the edges of the mole are not smooth.
  • C olors include blue, black, brown, or red.
  • D iameter means the size of the mole is larger than a pencil eraser.
  • E volution means the mole changes. This may include changes in appearance, changes in symptoms, such as bleeding, or changes in shape, size, or color. The area may also itch or feel hard, lumpy, swollen, or tender.
    Melanoma ABCDE

How is melanoma diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your skin and look at the size, shape, and color of your moles. You may need more than one of the following tests:

  • A skin biopsy is done to remove part or all of the mole, sore, or lump. The sample is then sent to a lab to be tested for cancer.
  • An x-ray or CT may be used to see if the melanoma has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A sentinel node biopsy may be done to see if the melanoma has spread to lymph nodes close to the mole.

How is melanoma treated?

  • Surgery may be needed to remove melanoma from a larger area of skin. Surgery may also be done if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
  • Biological therapy is used to help your immune system fight the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells.

How should I take care of my skin?

  • Protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UVA UVB) rays:
    • Wear sunscreen that has an SPF (sun protectant factor) of 30 or higher. Make sure it has UVA and UVB protection. Follow directions when you use sunscreen. Put on more sunscreen if you swim, sweat, or are in the sun for longer than an hour. Protect your lips by using lipsticks and lip balms that contain sunscreen.
    • Stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. This is when the sun is strongest and most damaging to your skin.
    • Wear protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will protect your arms and legs when you are out in the sun. A wide-brimmed hat can protect both your face and neck. Wear sunglasses that have UVA and UVB protection.
  • Do not use tanning booths. These can damage your skin as much as the sun can.
  • Look for new bumps on your skin every week. Check your entire body, including your scalp. Look for moles that change in shape, size, color, or texture. Know what your regular birthmarks and moles look like.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a mole that changes in shape, size, color, or texture.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Melanoma

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.