FAQs About Melanoma

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in pigment cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes produce melanin, the vital pigment that gives our skin its color. Melanoma occurs when cancerous cells grow out of control (mutate) and crowd out normal cells. 

Read more about what causes melanoma.

How Common is Melanoma?

In 2020 it is estimated that there will be 196,060 cases of melanoma diagnosed in the U.S.

Incidence is most common among non-Hispanic whites, who have an annual rate of 28 cases per 100,000, compared to 7 cases per 100,000 in American Indians/Alaska Natives; 5 cases per 100,000 in Hispanics; and 1 case per 100,000 in non-Hispanic blacks and Asians/Pacific Islanders. Incidence rates are higher in women than in men before age 50, but by age 65, rates in men are double those in women, and by age 80 they are triple.

Read more about age and risk for melanoma.

Where Does Melanoma Usually Appear on the Body?

Melanoma is considered skin cancer because it develops in the melanocytes—the cells in our skin that produce pigment—and because most cases of melanoma occur on the skin. The most common cutaneous (skin) melanoma, called superficial spreading melanoma, frequently appears on the trunks of men, the legs of women, and the upper back of both sexes.

But melanocytes exist wherever we have skin, as well as in our eyes and our mucosal membranes, so melanoma can occur in these places, too.

Read more about different types of melanoma and where they occur on the body.

What are the Risk Factors for Melanoma?

UV exposure, the number and type of moles on your body, your skin tone, and your family history of skin cancer/melanoma are the primary risk factors for melanoma.

Read more about the risk factors for melanoma.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma?

Melanoma can look different on different people, but if you see a skin lesion or mole on your skin that fits one of the ABCDE guidelines or the Ugly Duckling rule, or if you see a new mole or skin lesion, you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider who has experience with melanoma. Identifying new or changing moles/lesions is key to early detection.

Learn more about the ABCDE guidelines and the Ugly Duckling rule.

I Have a Lot of Moles. Am I at a Higher Risk of Developing Melanoma?

Yes, you are at higher risk.

Learn more about why you are at higher risk and what the other risk factors for melanoma are.

Are there Different Types of Melanoma?

Yes, there are many different types and subtypes.

Read about all the types of melanoma here.

How is Melanoma Diagnosed?

The majority of melanomas are diagnosed after a suspicious lesion or mole has been removed from a person’s body, sent to a pathology lab for evaluation, and declared to be cancerous. 

Read more about how melanoma is diagnosed.

What are the Stages of Melanoma?

Melanoma is divided into stages using five Roman numerals (0 through IV) and up to four letters (A through D), which show variation within each stage. Generally, the lower the number and the lower the letter, the better the prognosis. The stage is determined by specific details about the cancer that are tallied in a system called the TNM Staging System.

Read more about melanoma staging.

What is the Treatment for Melanoma?

There are many different types of treatment for melanoma, and your treatment options primarily depend on your stage.

Learn more about all the types of treatment for melanoma 

Is Melanoma Curable?

Melanoma is highly survivable in its earliest stages because the entire tumor is removed before it has an opportunity to spread anywhere else in the body. In these cases, it is considered cured by surgery. But once melanoma has spread to regional lymph nodes or to distant sites, there is no cure. We remove metastasized tumors surgically if possible and treat them with drugs that may shrink or destroy them, but we don’t have any treatment that eliminates all metastasized cells from the body, which is what we usually think of when we think of the word cure.

Learn more by reading about each stage of melanoma.

Will My Melanoma Recur?

It might. The risk of it recurring is dependent upon what stage you are and the characteristics of your original tumor.

Read more about the stages of melanoma and whether they are deemed low or high risk for recurrence.

Since I Have Melanoma, Do Members of My Family Need to be Tested?

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your immediate family members have an increased risk of developing melanoma. All of you should have your skin checked annually and should check your own skin monthly.

Read more about skin self-checks and skin examinations by your doctor.