What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer, which arises from the pigment cells (melanocytes) in the skin. In melanoma skin cancer the melanocytes start to multiply excessively and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body (metastasise). This risk of spread is why melanoma is regarded as a more serious type of skin cancer.

What causes melanoma?

The most important cause of melanoma is exposure to too much ultraviolet light. The use of artificial sources of ultraviolet light, such as sun-beds, also increases the risk. Melanocytes make a brown/black pigment (known as melanin), and often the first sign of a melanoma developing is a previous mole changing in colour or a new pigmented lesion developing. Most frequently there is darkening in colour but occasionally there is loss of pigmentation with pale areas developing. These colour changes are said to give it a ‘variegated’ appearance.

Diagnosis and treatment

The initial treatment for a suspected melanoma is to remove it (excise) and to send it to the pathologist in order to determine the diagnosis. When the lesion is first removed, it is usually done along with a narrow margin of normal looking surrounding skin. If a diagnosis of melanoma is confirmed , a second procedure will be required to remove more normal skin from around the scar. This second procedure is to reduce the risk of the melanoma coming back.

Find out more about Melanoma Treatments

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