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Approximately 70,000 new cases of invasive melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. 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 also one of the most frequently occurring cancers in young adults ages 20 to 30, and is the main cause of cancer death in women 25 to 30 years old.
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 is divided into several types. The treatment and outlook for each is different.
There are four major types of cutaneous melanoma:
Superficial spreading melanoma:
- Most common melanoma type
- About 70% of cases
- Usually starts in a pre-existing mole
- Second most common melanoma type
- 15% to 30% of cases
- More aggressive and usually develops quicker than superficial spreading 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 melanoma 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
- 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, prognosis is often poor
Because the eyes contain melanocytes, they can be susceptible to melanoma. Read more about the two types of ocular melanoma:
Some cases of melanoma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.
Some people have an elevated risk of developing melanoma. Review the melanoma screening guidelines to see if you need to be tested.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes can help prevent melanoma. Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your risk.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting melanoma is a risk factor.
Sun damage, especially a history of peeling sunburns, is the main risk factor for melanoma. Artificial sunlight from tanning beds causes the same risk for melanoma as natural sunlight.
Other risk factors for melanoma include:
- Fair complexion: People with blond or red hair, light skin, blue eyes and a tendency to sunburn are at increased risk.
- Previous melanoma
- Moles (nevi): Having a lot of benign (non-cancer) moles
- Family history of melanoma
- Atypical mole and melanoma syndrome (AMS): Previously known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, AMS is characterized by large numbers of atypical moles. If you have AMS, you and your family members should be screened regularly
Not everyone with risk factors gets melanoma. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Learn more about melanoma:
Why choose MD Anderson for your melanoma treatment?
Our team of internationally recognized experts provides customized treatment for melanoma to ensure you receive the most advanced care with the least impact on your body.
Multidisciplinary Melanoma Treatment
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 treatment for melanoma skin cancer specifically to your unique situation.
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 Melanoma Treatment
Your personal team of experts in melanoma skin cancer 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 skin cancer 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)
And we're constantly researching ways to help the body fight
- 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
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 skin cancer.
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Melanoma Moon Shot
MD Anderson’s Melanoma Moon Shot® aims to rapidly and dramatically improve the disease’s survival rates and reduce suffering through prevention, early detection, research and new treatments.Learn more about the Melanoma Moon Shot
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular