About Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs and tissues, and its incidence is rising. New cases of melanoma affect close to 70,000 Americans every year. In fact, melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in men and the seventh most common cancer in women in the United States.

Risk Factors of Melanoma

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the only known environmental risk factor for developing melanoma of the skin. Other risk factors include:

  • A strong family history of the disease, possibly indicating a gene mutation
  • Large numbers of benign moles
  • Abnormal or atypical moles
  • Light-colored hair and eyes
  • A history of melanoma or other skin cancers
  • A history of severe sunburn during childhood
  • The use of sun lamps and tanning beds

Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma

Moles (benign growths of melanocytes) are far more common than melanomas, and differentiating between these can be difficult, even for experts. Any growth on the skin that is new or changing is best evaluated by your health-care provider. Additionally, itching (pruritus) of a new or existing mole, ulceration or bleeding from a mole can be early symptoms of melanoma.

The following "ABCDE" guidelines can help determine the need for additional evaluation:

  • Asymmetry - one half of the spot does not match the other
  • Border Irregularity - the edges are uneven or blurred
  • Color - the color is uneven or has shades of different colors
  • Diameter - the area is more than five millimeters in size (about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving - changing in any way including bleeding, itching or appearance

Preventing Melanoma

Some individuals have a genetic mutation and family history that makes them highly susceptible to developing melanoma. They may require lifelong surveillance. For others, the best way to prevent melanoma is to take precautions against ultraviolet (UV) rays from sun light, sun lamps and tanning beds.

Melanoma precautions include:

  • Wearing protective clothing and using a sunscreen that has "broad spectrum" protection against both UVA and UVB rays in sun light
  • Minimizing sun exposure during the middle of the day
  • Taking precautions against sunlight reflected from sand, snow or water
  • Ensuring that children have adequate sun protection
  • Having suspicious lesions or moles looked at by your physician<

More than 70 percent of melanomas are discovered by the patient or a family member.

Frequently Asked Questions About Melanoma

Questions? Read frequently asked questions about melanoma (FAQs).

For more information or to schedule a consultation with a melanoma specialist at Virginia Mason, in Seattle, call (206) 223-6831.