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Melanoma is a cancer that most often starts in the skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects your body from injury, infection, heat and ultraviolet light from the sun.
The skin helps control your body temperature and gets rid of waste materials through the sweat glands. It also makes vitamin D and stores water and fat.The skin has 2 main layers. The top layer at the surface is called the epidermis. Below the epidermis is the inner layer, called the dermis. The dermis contains nerves, blood vessels, sweat glands, oil (sebaceous) glands and hair follicles.
The epidermis is made up of 3 types of cells:
Melanoma is less common than squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers (sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancers). Melanoma can start in other places in the body where melanocytes are found, such as the eyes, mouth and vagina or under the fingernails. These types of melanoma are rare.
A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of melanoma can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.
Moles are common. On average, people have between 10 and 40 moles on their body. Most moles develop on a person before the age of 40. A normal mole is round or oval, usually flesh-colored, pink, tan or brown and flat or dome-shaped.
Melanoma has a variety of forms and can appear anywhere on the body. About half of all melanomas start with a change in normal-looking skin. This change usually looks like a dark area or an abnormal new mole. Other melanomas develop from an existing mole, freckle, birthmark or colored spot. This change in a mole, freckle, birthmark or colored spot can occur over several months to years.
Melanomas in men are most common on the back. Melanomas in women are most common on the legs
Late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs. The symptoms of advanced melanoma will depend on which part of the body is affected. The symptoms are different for everyone and may include:
Treatment for melanoma is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.
Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for melanoma are based on: