Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. Although not the most common type, it causes the most skin cancer deaths. And the rate of melanoma has been increasing. This is most likely due to people spending more time in the sun. Being exposed to ultraviolet radiation, whether from the sun’s rays, a tanning bed, or sunlamps, can damage skin. This can lead to melanoma or other types of skin cancer.

Other risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Lots of moles, abnormal moles, or large moles
  • Having a close family member who has been diagnosed with melanoma
  • Having had melanoma in the past
  • Having fair skin, light colored eyes, or light colored hair
  • Freckling and burning easily
  • A history of frequent sunburns in the past

If you have dark skin, or if you are African American, your risk for melanoma is less. But if you do get melanoma, it can be more dangerous, so it is still important to be aware of melanoma symptoms.


What to Report to Your Healthcare Provider

If you notice any moles on your body have changed in size or appearance ask your doctor to take a look. You can use this ABCD rule:

  • A is for asymmetric. Are there any moles with unusual shapes?
  • B is for irregular border. Do any moles have raised or ragged edges?
  • C is for color. Do any moles have unusual or mixed colors?
  • D is for diameter. Are any moles getting larger?

Many melanomas don’t follow the ABCD rule, so call your doctor if you have any spots on your skin that are new or changing in size, shape, or color, or if they are different from all of the other spots on your body.

Skin Biopsy

If your doctor thinks a mole may be melanoma, you may need a skin biopsy. This means a piece of the mole must be removed to be looked at under a microscope. In these circumstances, the benefits of biopsy outweigh any risks, but there is a small chance that your biopsy can cause an infection and it may leave a scar.

The benefit of early detection is that melanomas found early are easier to treat. If a biopsy shows melanoma, you and your healthcare provider will talk about treatment options. A diagnosis of skin cancer can be difficult to hear, but you’ve taken the first step in addressing a serious threat to your health.

What to Do

If you have a history of melanoma, make sure you know how to do a self-exam, and perform it once per month. Other things to do include:

  • Avoid long periods out in the sun, especially if you burn easily.
  • Make sure to use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. An SPF of 30 filters out 97 percent of damaging ultraviolet radiation. An SPF of 50 filters out 98 percent and an SPF of 100 filters 99 percent.
  • If you need to avoid the sun because of skin cancer or risk of skin cancer, ask your healthcare provider about a vitamin D supplement.

What We Have Learned

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer, and it causes the most skin cancer deaths.
True or False
The answer is True

If you have a mole that is changing color, this is not something you need to report to your doctor.
True or False
The answer is False

If melanoma is detected early, it is much easier to treat.
True or False
The answer is True