Symptoms & Risks

What is melanoma?

Melanoma starts in the part of the body that gives us our color. These color producing cells are called melanocytes. Often but not always, melanoma will be dark brown or black when it develops. The skin is a common site for melanoma to occur because the skin has most of these melanocytes. The back of the eye also is a common place for melanoma to start. There are other rare sites such as under the nails or soles of the feet. People with darker skin or non-caucasian individuals are more likely to develop melanoma in these locations.

What causes melanoma?

Although we know sun and UV light exposure have been associated with melanoma, we do not know the exact cause. It is associated more with unaccustomed severe sun exposure rather, than long term chronic everyday exposure. It also can occur in areas of the body that do not get the most sun. Other unexplained factors must also exist that contribute to melanoma, but sun exposure is the one thing we can change. Most doctors recommend minimizing severe sun exposure and covering up when in the sun especially in people with fair complexions or a history of melanoma.

Can people or ethnic groups with darker skin get melanoma?

Yes, they can. Although it is not as common and can occur in unusual places like the soles of feet, but it can happen. Fortunately, darker skin seems to have a protective nature, but if you have something that you are concerned about make an appointment with your physician to discuss.

I have a mole that looks bad, does that mean it is melanoma?

Anything that you are concerned about, please discuss with your physician. Most cases of melanoma are detected by the person with the cancer or a close family/friend. So please speak up if you see a family member or friend who may have melanoma. It’s also important to note that most moles are benign, even the larger ones.

What are the symptoms of melanoma?

Most of the time melanoma will present as a mole that suddenly grows, changes color or starts to itch or bleed. Most moles are benign, but if you have concerns show your doctor. The internet can be a good resource to compare images.