* Lymph nodes
Melanoma is a very serious form of skin cancer. It begins in melanocytes— cells that make the skin pigment called melanin. Although melanoma accounts for only about 4% of all skin cancer cases, it causes most skin cancer-related deaths. The good news is that melanoma is often curable if it is detected and treated in its early stages. For more information, see skin cancer section.
In men, melanoma is found most often on the area between the shoulders and hips or on the head and neck. In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs. It may also appear under the fingernails or toenails or on the palms or soles. The chance of developing melanoma increases with age, but it affects all age groups and is one of the most common cancers in young adults.
How Common Is Melanoma?
The number of new melanomas diagnosed in the United States is increasing. Since 1973, the incidence rate for melanoma (the number of new melanomas diagnosed per 100,000 people each year) has more than doubled from 5.7 to 14.31.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 55,100 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2004. About 7,910 people are expected to die in 20041.
How Does Melanoma Develop?
When melanoma starts in the skin, it is called cutaneous melanoma. Melanoma may also occur in the eye (ocular melanoma or intraocular melanoma) and, rarely, in other areas where melanocytes are found, such as the digestive tract, meninges, or lymph nodes. When melanoma spreads (metastasis), cancer cells are also found in the lymph nodes and possibly also other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or brain. In these cases, the cancer cells are still melanoma cells, and the disease is called metastatic melanoma.
To understand melanoma, it is helpful to know about the skin and melanocytes — and what happens when they become cancerous.
©ˆ American Cancer Society Web site: Estimated New Cancer Cases and Deaths by Sex for All Sites, US, 2004: Available at http://www.cancer.org
. Accessed January 5, 2005.