Melanoma Facts

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.
  • Melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in men and the seventh most common cancer in women in the United States.
  • Melanoma can begin in a mole or arise directly on the surface of the skin or within pigmented areas of skin.
  • The ultraviolet (UV) light from sun lamps and tanning beds carries as much risk for developing melanoma as direct sun light.
  • Individuals receive the majority of their lifetime sun exposure during their childhood years. For this reason, children should wear sun screen or protective clothing while outdoors.
  • Whenever possible, individuals should wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV light while outdoors.
  • The number of benign or atypical moles (nevi) one has is more of a risk factor for melanoma than having fair skin and light-colored hair.
  • While incidence rates vary among ethnic groups, the incidence of melanoma is rising fastest in Caucasians with fair skin and light-colored hair, a roughly 3 to 7 percent increase per year.
  • Like many other cancers, melanoma is potentially curable when caught at an early stage.
  • There are gene mutations (CDKN2A and CDK4 are two) that make some individuals more susceptible to developing melanoma. These individuals will have a strong family history of melanoma and carry a 60 to 90 percent lifetime risk of developing the disease.
  • Most melanomas (70 percent) as well as melanoma that recurs are found by the patient or a family member.

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