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Melanoma

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a disease of the skin in which cancer cells are found in the melanocytes, the cells that produce color in the skin or pigment known as melanin. Melanoma usually occurs in adults, but it may occasionally be found in children and adolescents. Melanoma may also be called cutaneous melanoma or malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest, but most virulent, form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a more serious type of cancer than the more common basal cell cancer, or squamous cell cancer. Although the incidence of melanoma is lower than other types of skin cancer, it has the highest death rate and is responsible for a majority of all deaths from skin cancer.

What are the risk factors for melanoma?

Persons with the following characteristics may be at an increased risk for melanoma:

  • blond or red hair
  • blue eyes
  • fair complexion
  • family history of melanoma
  • a changed or changing mole
  • many ordinary moles (more than 50)
  • many freckles
  • an immunosuppressive disorder
  • dysplastic nevi
  • sun exposure The amount of time spent unprotected in the sun directly affects your risk of skin cancer.
  • inability to tan

Dark-brown or black skin is not a guarantee against melanoma. African-Americans can develop this cancer, especially on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails, or in the mouth.

Treatment Programs

Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients’ health care decisions. That’s just one reason why we’re dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.