• Consumer Health: What do you know about melanoma?

a medical illustration of melanoma

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn more about melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

While melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers, it causes most skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Melanomas develop in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. The first sign of a melanoma often is a mole that changes size, shape or color. This melanoma shows color variations and an irregular border, both of which are melanoma warning signs. Melanomas don't always begin as a mole, though. They also can occur on otherwise normal-appearing skin.

Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and can develop melanomas. Eye melanomas, also called ocular melanomas, most often forms in the part of the eye you can't see when looking in a mirror. This makes it difficult to detect.

The exact cause of all melanomas isn't clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk. UV light doesn't cause all melanomas, though, especially those that occur in places on your body that aren't exposed to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of melanoma.

If you've been diagnosed with melanoma, your treatment will be based on the size and stage of the cancer, and your overall health and preferences. Treatment can include surgery, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapy, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Melanoma often is curable if you find it early. The ABCDE melanoma test can help you determine if an unusual mole or suspicious spot on your skin may be a melanoma.

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