What is Melanoma?

Melanoma of the skin, the deadliest form of skin cancer is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in American men and the seventh most common type in American women. The incidence and mortality rates for invasive melanoma are highest in whites, who have a much higher risk of developing melanoma than African Americans.

Among people younger than 45, incidence rates are higher in women than in men. By age 60 years, melanoma incidence rates in men are more than twice those of women; by age 80 years, men are nearly three times more likely to develop melanoma than women. The annual incidence rate of melanoma among whites increased by more than 60 percent from 1991 to 2011. The incidence of melanoma has been increasing more rapidly among whites aged 65 and older than among any other group.

Risk factors for melanoma include having fair skin that burns easily, high lifetime exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, a history of blistering sunburns (particularly at a young age), many common moles, a personal or family history of dysplastic nevi or melanoma, and being white. Avoiding sun exposure and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion that filters both UVB and UVA radiation may reduce the risk of melanoma. Visual skin examinations are sometimes used to screen for melanoma. Standard treatments for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and biological therapy.

Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $2.9 billion1 will be spent on melanoma care in the United States in 2014.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is usually a result of too much sun exposure. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Many types of skin cancer are both preventable and treatable. There are three different types of skin cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma: Is the most common form, accounting for 90 percent of all skin cancers. It starts in the basal cells, at the bottom of the outer skin layer. This skin cancer is caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. It is the most easily treated.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Is the second most common type of skin cancer. It starts in the outer skin layer, eventually penetrating the underlying tissue if not treated. It is easily treated when found early, but in a small percentage of cases, this cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Malignant melanoma: Is the most serious type of skin cancer, and it is responsible for the most deaths. However, it can be cured if it is diagnosed and removed early. Melanoma starts in moles or other growths on normal skin.

A more rare form of skin cancer can be AIDS-related:

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS): Is caused by a virus in the herpes family. This aggressive AIDS-related form affects about one-third of people with AIDS. A more slow-growing form occurs in elderly men of Italian or Jewish ancestry.

Most skin cancers occur on parts of the body that are repeatedly exposed to the sun, including the head, neck, face, ears, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, lower legs and chests.

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