Melanoma is a common form of skin cancer, affecting 80,000 Americans each year. Melanoma originates from melanocytes, which are normal cells found in human skin. Melanocytes are responsible for skin pigmentation and actually protect the body from harmful UV light. Occasionally, these normal cells will develop a cancerous mutation that causes a tumor. This tumor is called melanoma.
Most melanoma is caused by repetitive damage to the skin from significant sun exposure or tanning bed use. Some melanomas develop from normal skin “moles” that suddenly start to change in size or color. Most melanomas actually arise “out of the blue,” without a prior mole.
Most melanoma is not hereditary, meaning these is not a mutated gene that is passed down from one generation to the next at the time of birth. That being said, there are certain characteristics that put people at an increased risk of acquiring melanoma. These characteristics include red or blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin, particularly with freckles. These characteristics are often passed from generation to generation within a family. This is why some families may have multiple family members that have had melanoma, making it appear like a hereditary cancer.
Most melanoma can be cured with a simple surgery to remove the melanoma. Occasionally we will need to remove some lymph nodes to make sure that the melanoma hasn’t spread. This is called staging. Prognosis depends of the depth of the melanoma as well as the status of the lymph nodes.