Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It’s much less common than other skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. But it’s also much more dangerous. That's because melanoma is more likely to spread to other organs. It can develop on parts of your body that rarely see the sun. And it affects people with darker skin tones, too.

Even if you think your skin cancer risk is low, you should report unusual moles or skin changes to your doctor. The sooner you catch melanoma, the better your chances of beating it. But if left untreated, melanoma can become life-threatening.

What is Melanoma?

Your skin gets its unique color from “melanocytes” (cells that produce a pigment called melanin). Melanocytes also make extra pigment in response to sunlight. That’s why your skin may darken after spending time in the sun.

Melanoma cancer begins in the melanocytes. As these cancerous cells multiply, they can grow into a small mass (tumor) on your skin.

Warning signs of melanoma include:

  • A new mole, spot, lump or blemish
  • An existing spot that has changed size, shape or color
  • An existing spot that turns painful or itchy
  • An existing spot that begins to ooze or bleed
  • A sore that won’t heal

Melanoma usually occurs on skin with lots of sun exposure. But it can occur anywhere on the body, even in hidden areas. These include the bottom of your foot, under a fingernail, between your toes or inside your mouth.

Because melanoma can be sneaky—and serious—doctors recommend you have regular skin exams. Your primary care doctor or a dermatologist can check your skin during routine medical visits. They can check areas that are hard for you to see, like your scalp and back.

Between medical exams, you should regularly check your own skin. When you’re familiar with the look and feel of your skin, you can identify suspicious changes to moles, freckles and other marks.

Melanoma Treatment at Mercy

Mercy’s cancer team understands you need both medical care and reassurance. We’ll spend time answering your questions. And we’ll use the latest tools and techniques to get rid of your cancer with the least amount of side effects.

Your treatment strategy will depend on several factors. These include whether we caught your melanoma early or whether it has spread. Your doctor may recommend you have one or more types of treatment, including:

  • Medication, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery to remove the melanoma from your skin. If your cancer has spread, your surgeon may also remove affected lymph nodes.

Cancer can stop you in your tracks. But with the right expertise and encouragement, you can keep going. We’ll help you pick up where you left off, living and loving life.

Does Melanoma Always Develop From Moles?

Dr. Jason Reinberg

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