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Melanoma and Skin Cancer
Malignant melanoma is a potentially serious skin cancer in which the pigment producing cells, known as melanocytes, in the skin undergo rapid growth. It can arise anywhere on the skin either from an existing mole or as a “new” growth.
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun has been linked to causing melanoma. Genetic factors may also play an important role in melanoma development.
Some risk factors include:
- Prior diagnosis of melanoma
- Patients with unusual (atypical or dysplastic) moles or many moles
- Patients with fair skin, red or blond hair, or lots of freckles
- Excessive sun exposure or history of multiple sunburns during childhood
- Patients with a family history of melanoma (parent, sibling or child)
- Certain kinds of congenital (birth) moles
Any new or changing mole, freckle or skin growth requires prompt medical attention. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, especially on the back. It can also occur on the nail beds, hands and feet, particularly in Asian patients. A dermatologist should be consulted for a thorough assessment. A skin check by a dermatologist is recommended every 6 months to a year, depending on your risk. The entire skin surface will be examined. If any suspicious lesion is detected, a skin biopsy or excision surgery may be required.
There are other non-pigmented skin cancers: basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. These skin cancers are also linked to chronic or intense exposure to ultraviolet rays. These cancers may not be pigmented like moles. Therefore, any new growths or changing skin lesions should be evaluated promptly by a dermatologist.