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USC Surgery / Conditions / Melanoma

Is melanoma serious?

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes. Though melanoma is predominantly found on the skin, it can occur in other parts of the body such as the sole of the foot, palm of the hand, anus/rectum and eye (uvea).

Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. This also happens when skin is exposed to other forms of ultraviolet light (such as in a tanning booth). If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This condition is called melanoma.

How and where does melanoma appear?

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole. But melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole. In men, melanoma most often shows up on the upper body, between the shoulders and hips and on the head and neck.

In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs. In dark-skinned people, melanoma often appears: under the fingernails or toenails or on the feet and hands. Although these are the most common places on the body for melanomas to appear, they can appear anywhere on the skin. It is important to examine your skin often to check for new moles or changes in moles and to see a dermatologist regularly, especially if you have a lot of moles.

With early diagnosis and treatment, the chances of recovery are very good.

The chance of getting melanoma increases as you get older, but people of any age can get melanoma. In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults (ages 25 to 29). Each year, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma.

Melanoma is a serious and sometimes life-threatening cancer, but if melanoma is found and treated in its early stages, the chances of recovery are very good. If it is not found early, melanoma can grow deeper into the skin and spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma typically first spreads to the nearby lymph nodes. With more advanced disease, melanoma can also spread to organs such as the lungs, liver, and brain. This spread is called metastasis. Once melanoma has spread to organs, it is more difficult to treat.

Keck Medicine of USC
Univeristy of Southern California
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.