Melanoma is the most serious and potentially deadly form of skin cancer. It results from the uncontrolled growth of the pigment cells of the skin (melanocytes). Melanomas are most common on sun exposed skin surfaces, but can occur on the palms, soles of the feet, under finger and toenails, on the genitals, around the anus, in the mouth and even in the eye. It is more common in older people, but it can occur at any age, even in children. Melanomas are often caused by sun damage and the use of tanning beds but are also caused by many other factors including a genetic or family history of melanoma. They are also more common in people who have many moles.
Early detection and treatment is critical to the wellbeing of people with melanoma. Any new or changing or unusual mole should be examined by a dermatologist as soon as possible. Melanomas usually are brown or dark brown or black in color. They may be flat or raised. They are not usually painful. They may also appear as a brown mark under a finger or toenail. They may also be pink or red in color and may bleed or not heal.
If diagnosed and treated early, most melanomas are treatable. However, if left untreated melanomas can spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body and become an extremely serious medical problem that can be deadly. If a melanoma is suspected by your doctor, a biopsy is done by taking a piece of the tumor and examining it under a microscope. Treatment usually involves surgical removal of the skin tumor. Sometimes lymph nodes will also be taken to examine for signs of spread of the tumor. If the tumor has spread to other areas of the body, internal medications and radiation may be used to treat the cancer.