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Melanoma is a type of skin cancer most often seen in adults. It also affects about 300–400 children and teens each year in the United States. Melanoma can develop on any part of the skin. It can also occur in the eye. If left untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.
In melanoma, cancer forms in skin cells called melanocytes. These cells produce melanin, which provides color (pigment) to the skin.
Melanin helps protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation (UV radiation). People with darker skin have more melanin and are less likely to develop melanoma.
Melanoma accounts for about 1% of cancers in children under age 15. It occurs more often in older age groups.
Symptoms of melanoma include unusual skin changes such as:
Treatment for melanoma depends on the stage of disease. Patients usually have surgery to remove the cancer. More severe disease may require other treatment. This may include targeted therapy, chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy.
When caught early, survival rates for melanoma are good. But melanoma can spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body. This can make it hard to treat. So, awareness and early detection of melanoma is quite important.
It is best to identify skin cancers as soon as possible. Skin cancer screening can help you do that.
Signs of melanoma include:
A helpful way to think about signs of melanoma is to use the ABCDE method:
A: Asymmetry – One half of the spot is different than the other.
B: Border – The spot’s edges or border are notched or jagged, not smooth.
C: Color variation – The spot’s color varies from one area to another.
D: Diameter – Melanoma is often larger than a pencil eraser when diagnosed. But it could be smaller.
E: Evolution – Melanoma’s shape, size, or color changes over time.
Some factors increase the risk for melanoma. These include:
Doctors use several procedures and tests to diagnose melanoma. These include:
Other tests may be needed if doctors think melanoma may have spread. These tests include:
Melanoma has several subtypes:
Melanoma is classified in stages 1–4. These stages are based on factors that include:
Treatment for melanoma depends on the:
The chance of recovery from melanoma depends on a variety of factors such as:
Overall, the stage of disease is the most important factor for prognosis. Patients with melanoma that has not spread have an excellent prognosis. Survival rates are more than 90% in the United States. But patients whose disease has spread are more difficult to treat.
Survivors of melanoma are at higher risk for cancer coming back. Melanoma survivors should have regular exams by a dermatologist at least every 6 months. Check their skin regularly and see a doctor at any sign of change.
Here are some ways to help prevent melanoma:
Childhood cancer survivors should have long-term follow-up health care. Some treatments can cause late effects. These are health problems that happen months or years after treatment has ended.
It is important to have regular checkups and screenings by a primary health care provider. Your child should have a survivorship care plan after they complete treatment. It includes guidance on:
Share this plan with your child’s care providers.
Survivors should adopt healthy habits to protect their health. This includes physical activity and healthy eating.
Reviewed: May 2023