Melanoma: What It Is, Causes, Types, Symptoms & Treatments

Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in the pigment-making cells, known as “melanocytes.”

As you prepare to head out into the sun this summer, it’s important to protect yourself. Of all the skin cancers, melanoma is the one that scares doctors and patients the most and unfortunately, many Black Americans are unaware that they are at risk of developing it.
“The patients have to understand they are at risk so they can come to the doctor,” Meena Moossavi, MD, a dermatologist practicing in Detroit, Michigan says. “The providers need to know what to look for so they can diagnose as soon as possible.”
Luckily, there are now several options for treatment should you be diagnosed with this aggressive, sometimes deadly, cancer.

“If you get diagnosed right away, it’s a better prognosis than when the diagnosis is made after months or years,” Moossavi adds. “I’ve been talking about this with the [medical] students and residents and we always come to the same conclusion: Education is the most important thing.”

Melanoma affects over 1 million Americans, and its rates have risen significantly in the past 30 years, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Although Black people less likely to develop melanoma than non-Hispanic White people, Blacks who do develop the cancer have a much lower five-year survival rate.

Here, experts explore what melanoma is, along with its causes, risk factors and key symptoms. Plus, you’ll learn about melanoma’s stages, types and treatments.

RELATED: Why Blacks Have Higher Melanoma Mortality Rates

What is melanoma?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that cancer occurs when cells begin to grow out of control. Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in the pigment-making cells, known as “melanocytes.” While not as common as other forms of skin cancer, it is more serious.

“Melanoma is more aggressive and more likely to spread to the lymph nodes,” according to Dr. Hugh Greenway, a dermatologic surgeon with Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center and Scripps Clinic in California. “It’ll spread to the liver, to the brain and throughout the body if not checked.”

According to the AAD, ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds is the cause of melanoma.

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