Melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes and surrounding tissue form noncancerous growths called moles. Moles are quite common, and most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Melanoma occurs when melanocytes become malignant and invade invading adjacent tissue. Characteristics of suspicious-looking moles or dark spots may become melanoma include:
- Uneven shape or coloration
- Ragged, blurred, or notched edges
- Changes in size
- Bleeding, itching, or painful spots
- Changes in texture, becoming lumpy, shiny, waxy, smooth, or ulcerated
- New moles
Who's at risk?
Anyone can get melanoma, even people with darker-toned complexions and those who tan without burning. However, research has shown that people with certain physical and hereditary factors are at greater risk than others.
Risk factors include but are not limited to:
- Excessive exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including tanning beds
- History of one or more severe, blistering sunburns
- Fair skin
- More than 50 ordinary moles
- Unusual and irregular-looking moles (dysplastic nevi)
- Family history of melanoma
- Past history of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, or squamous cell carcinoma
Although the chance of developing melanoma increases with age, it is one of the most common cancers in young adults.