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Melanoma Facts and Types

Our Approach

Dr. Nicholas Papadopoulos

Nicholas Papadopoulos, M.D., has been treating melanoma patients at MD Anderson for over 30 years. 

Each person and each melanoma are different, and at MD Anderson's Ben Love/El Paso Corporation Melanoma and Skin Center, we use our unique multidisciplinary approach to tailor melanoma treatment specifically to your unique situation. Our team of internationally recognized experts customizes your care to ensure you receive the most advanced treatments with the least impact on your body.

More than 10,000 melanoma patients –– among the most of any program in the world –– are evaluated here each year. Caring for this large and diverse patient population has helped us develop an outstanding team of melanoma specialists with wide-ranging expertise and experience in treating all types of melanoma.

Comprehensive, Specialized Care

Your personal team of experts in melanoma may include melanoma surgical oncologists, melanoma medical oncologists, pathologists, dermatologists and dermatologic surgeons, head and neck surgeons, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons and other surgeons, radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists, and other specialists if needed. They work together closely, collaborating and communicating at every step of your treatment.

Several innovative treatments for melanoma are offered at MD Anderson, and many of them were discovered here. Your personalized treatment may include:

  • Lymphatic mapping and sentinel node biopsy
  • Minimally invasive limb perfusion
  • Targeted therapies that capitalize on our improved understanding of the molecular alterations within melanoma tumor cells
  • Adjuvant radiation therapy to help reduce the risk of melanoma coming back after surgery
  • Treatments for rare forms of melanoma, such as those that begin in the eye (uveal melanoma) or mucosa (for example, vaginal, rectal or sinonasal)

Pioneering Research

And we're constantly researching ways to help the body fight the cancer, including:

  • Immunotherapy, including the latest agents such as ipilimumab, PD-1 and PDL-1 inhibitors, interleukin-2 and adoptive T-cell therapy
  • Targeted therapies such as BRAF, MEK, multikinase and KIT inhibitors
  • Combination regimens
  • Vaccines

Since 2004, the National Cancer Institute has awarded MD Anderson a multimillion-dollar Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant. This means we are able to offer a broad array of clinical trials for melanoma.

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, it is important to be evaluated by expert physicians as soon as possible. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Our unique multidisciplinary approach
  • Our extensive array of melanoma clinical trials, offering the latest therapies
  • Our nationally recognized research program
  • Innovative melanoma treatments, including lymphatic mapping and sentinel node biopsy, targeted therapy, limb perfusion, interleukin-2 and immune-based therapy
  • Most advanced diagnostic methods
  • One of the world’s largest melanoma programs
  • MD Anderson's Melanoma Moon Shot Program is an ambitious effort to reduce cancer deaths through the rapid discovery and implementation of new melanoma treatments

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Melanoma Survivor Mark Wood

Mark Wood

"They're my family. "They were with me at the lowest point of my life."

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Melanoma Facts

Approximately 70,000 new cases of invasive melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. It’s one of the most frequently occurring cancers in young adults ages 20 to 30, and it's the main cause of cancer death in women 25 to 30 years old.

While melanoma accounts for only 3% of all types of the skin cancer, it has the highest death rate of all types and is more likely to spread (metastasize) in the body. It is becoming more much more common.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a skin cancer that starts in melanocytes (cells that make melanin), which give skin its pigment, or color. Sometimes these cells change, often because of damage caused by sun exposure. Over time, this damage may result in cancer.  

Melanoma usually appears as an:

  • Irregular brown, black and/or red spot or
  • Existing mole that begins to change color, size or shape

Melanoma appears most commonly on the trunk area in fair-skinned men and on the lower legs in fair-skinned women. In dark-skinned people, melanoma appears most frequently on the palms, the soles of the feet and the skin under nails. If caught early, melanoma is often curable.

Melanoma Types

Melanoma is divided into several types. The treatment and outlook for each is different.

Cutaneous Melanoma

There are four major types of cutaneous melanoma:

Superficial spreading melanoma:

  • Most common form of melanoma
  • About 70% of cases
  • Usually starts in a pre-existing mole

Nodular melanoma:

  • Second most common type
  • 15% to 30% of cases
  • More aggressive and usually develops quicker than superficial melanomas

Lentigo maligna melanoma: 

  • Appears as large, flat lesions
  • Most commonly found on the faces of light-skinned women over 50
  • 4% to 10% of cases
  • Lower risk of spreading than other types

Acral lentiginous melanoma: 

  • Occurs on the palms, soles of the feet or beneath the nail beds
  • 2% to 8% of melanomas in fair-skinned patients
  • Up to 60% of melanomas in darker-skinned patients
  • Large, with an average diameter of 3 centimeters

Mucosal Melanoma 

  • About 1% of melanoma cases
  • Occurs in mucosal tissue, which lines body cavities and hollow organs
  • Most common sites are head and neck region (including the nasal cavity, mouth and esophagus), rectum, urinary tract and vagina
  • Can be very difficult to detect
  • Even when diagnosed and treated, the outlook is often poor

Melanoma of the eye (ocular melanoma)

Because the eyes contain melanocytes, they can be susceptible to melanoma. Read more about the two types of ocular melanoma:

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center