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Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma skin cancer is a commonly occurring cancer that happens when the normal pigment cells of the skin, known as melanocytes, become malignant.  Melanoma is frequently found on the surface of the skin but may also occur in the eyes, in internal organs, and under hard to spot surfaces like the nails or toes.  Melanoma skin cancer is treatable, but people with melanoma are at a higher risk of developing it multiple times throughout their life.

Melanoma can also spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.  When the cancer reaches, or is detected in, the lymph nodes it can be especially harmful to the patient.  If melanoma skin cancer has spread to the lymph nodes it is usually a sign that the cancer exists in other parts of the body, potentially in organs like the lungs and brain.

Several risk factors exist and people should be especially aware of them as early detection usually means effective prevention.  One sign to look out for are what is known as dysplastic nevi, which are abnormally shaped or sized moles on the body.  Many people do, however, have many dysplastic nevi without developing melanoma skin cancer, but the abnormal moles should be watched carefully. 

These moles may be biopsied fairly easily in a dermatologist's office and lab.  A topical anesthesia is used and the mole is then cut off using a scalpel.  A cauterizing tool can be used to seal up the skin and prevent bleeding or infection.  There is little pain and the procedure generally only takes a few minutes.  Some scarring, particularly keloid scars, may occur in patients who have a mole cut off. 

While the appearance of several dysplastic nevi is the main indicator, other risk factors for melanoma also exist.  If a person has over 50 moles on their body, even if they are regularly shaped, they are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer.  Melanoma skin carcinoma also occurs at a higher rate in people who have lighter skin tones, and hair and eye color.  Heredity may also play a role in potential melanoma development if other family members had the cancer before.

Other people at risk for developing melanoma skin cancer are those who have spent time in the sun and those who have had severe sunburns as a child or in their younger years.  Sun exposure is the leading cause of all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.  Exposure to UV radiation from other sources (such as a tanning booth) may cause melanoma as well. 
Prevention is key in staving off melanoma development.  People should avoid prolonged and excessive sun exposure and wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 when going outside.

Most cases of melanoma skin cancer are quickly treated.  If you notice strange mole shapes, contact a doctor immediately for a diagnosis.  Even if the biopsy shows malignancy, the melanoma can normally be effectively cured.