This patient information and photographs on Malignant Melanoma is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Malignant melanoma is a skin cancer. In lay terms this is sometimes called a "black mole cancer". It is not as common as some other less dangerous skin cancers such as basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Melanoma cancer can occur at any age and it may be found growing anywhere on the skin. Typically, it appears as a black to dark brown growth. The margins and surface of the growth are often irregular. It may grow rapidly and sometimes it may bleed.
What causes it? No one knows why a cancer starts. Melanoma cancer may arise by itself or it may begin to grow out of an abnormal mole. Heredity may also play a role because some families have more of a melanoma risk than others. Fair skin people seem to be at greater risk for developing melanoma than darker skinned people. Excessive sun exposure, especially if burning occurs during childhood, may increase the risk of getting melanoma.
Most dermatologists believe that regular use of sunscreen decreases risk for the development of malignant melanoma. My personal recommendation is a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher Sunscreen Info./Ordering. For more skin care in the sun recommendations click here sun skin care.
Is it dangerous? Melanomas are extremely dangerous and they kill thousands of Americans each year. The degree of danger depends on how deep the melanoma has grown at the time of diagnosis and if there is spread to other organs. Early diagnosis is the key to cure in melanoma. Unfortunately, even with early diagnosis and treatment some individuals with melanoma may develop spreading internally even years later.
Can it be cured? If diagnosed and removed early it can be cured. If the cancer is deep or has already spread to other organs, it becomes very difficult to treat. If spreading to other organs has occurred, you will need treatment by an internal cancer specialist.
Will I get more? If you have had a melanoma you are at higher than normal risk to develop another. Regular skin exams by a board certified dermatologist cannot be emphasized enough in those with a history of melanoma. You should make yourself familiar with the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and you should point out any suspicious new growths to me.
Is it contagious? Malignant melanoma is not contagious and you can not "catch it" from anyone.