Melanoma is a malignant tumor. It is one of three main types of skin cancer, which also includes squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are the most common forms of skin cancer, but melanoma is the most serious form.
Melanoma (also called malignant melanoma) is the term used to describe cancer of the melanocytes, which are microscopic cells within the skin that normally carry melanin. Melanin is a pigment (color) that gives color to hair and skin. Its production within the skin is normally increased when skin is exposed to sunlight, which causes tanning of the skin. Large accumulations of healthy melanocytes in the skin are called freckles or moles.
When the melanocytes become cancerous (malignant), they begin to grow in a wild and disorganized fashion, eventually becoming a tumor within the skin.
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There are three main types of skin cancer—squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are the most common forms, but melanoma is the most serious. The Melanoma Cancer Profiler pertains to melanoma only. Melanoma (also called malignant melanoma) is the term used to describe cancer of the melanocytes, the microscopic cells within the skin that carry the pigment melanin. There are three primary types of melanoma:
• Cutaneous melanomas begin in the skin. Although commonly found on the head and trunk in men and the lower legs in women, any skin surface can be involved. Moles are often, though not always, the original site of a cutaneous melanoma. The appearance of a melanoma can be variable, which is why all moles should be watched on a regular basis to detect any change in appearance, such as color, shape, size, or surface. Other changes could include scaling, ulceration (open wound), crusting, or bleeding. Many melanomas have no discomfort though new itching, burning, or pain should raise suspicion. Your physician should evaluate any new moles or lesions.
• Ocular melanomas occur within the eye. There may or may not be any symptoms, which is one reason to undergo routine eye examinations. Symptoms of ocular melanoma may include visual changes, bulging or pain in the eye. Ocular melanomas are treated differently than cutaneous melanomas. The discussions you will find in the Melanoma Profiler Treatment Options Tool will focus on cutaneous melanomas. To find out more information on ocular melanoma, visit the choroidal melanoma page on the Eye Cancer Network website, the American Cancer Society website, or consult your physician.
• Other melanomas begin in tissues elsewhere in the body, such those with a mucus membrane lining (the digestive tract or vagina). They are very rare. These are not discussed in the Melanoma Profiler Treatment Options Tool. Obtain additional information from your physician or the American Cancer Society.
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Symptoms of melanoma can vary, depending on the extent of tumor involvement. If it is isolated to the skin, changes may be subtle or profound.
• Pre-existing moles may change color, shape, size, or texture. They may bleed easily.
• Most skin melanomas have no sensation, though pain, itching, or burning should raise suspicion. Any new lesions on the skin should also be suspicious if they are unexplained or do not heal normally.
• There may be the development of "in-transit" or satellite lesions, which are new melanoma tumors within the skin along the pathway of the lymphatic system to the nearest lymph node. These indicate that the tumor cells are spreading.
• If the tumor has advanced to the nearby lymph nodes, they may be swollen or lumpy. If the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, tumors will form in those organs, and potentially interfere with the normal function of the organ. The symptoms are dependent on the organ affected.
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The type of treatment selected will depend upon tumor grade and stage as well as your general health. Four types of treatment are commonly used for melanoma: surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy.
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