Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer of the cells that produce the dark, protective pigment in your skin (melanin). Melanoma may affect anyone at any age.


Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. People with dark complexions can also develop melanoma, especially on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails, and in the mouth.

Individual lesions may appear as a dark brown, black, or multicolored growth with irregular borders that can become crusted and bleed. Check for spots that meet one or more of the ABCDE guidelines of melanoma. Those are:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color variability
  • Diameter of 6mm or more
  • Evolution or change in appearance or an appearance different from other moles

Learn how to examine your skin

Risk factors of malignant melanoma

Overexposure to sunlight, especially when it results in sunburn and blistering, is a major cause of melanoma. People who have fair skin, light hair and eye color, a family history of melanoma, or who have had melanoma in the past have an increased risk of developing this disease.

Melanoma can arise in or near a preexisting mole, or may appear without warning. It may spread to other organs, making it essential to treat this skin cancer early.

Potential consequences

Surgery can often cure melanoma when discovered early. However, melanoma can grow deep into the skin, invade blood vessels, and spread to lymph nodes and distant parts of the body (metastatic melanoma).
At least 90% of skin cancer is caused by overexposure to the sun.
Source: American Cancer Society, 2020

Treatment options for malignant melanoma

A dermapathology specialist will assess sections of tissue from a biopsy of your skin. If it is malignant melanoma, your doctor will discuss several treatment options with you. Your treatment will depend on the location of the tumor, extent of its spread and aggressiveness, and your general health.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgical removal
  • Mohs micrographic surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Sometimes lymph nodes are removed

Preventing malignant melanoma

Detecting melanoma early can be lifesaving, since this cancer may be curable in its early stages. Inspect your entire body on a regular basis. Any irregularity in an existing or newly developed pigment skin lesion could be a sign of melanoma and should be examined immediately by a physician.

To protect yourself from malignant melanoma, the most important prevention measure you can take is to avoid overexposure to sunlight.

Learn more about recommended prevention and protection techniques from Spot the Spot.

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Melanoma resources


Review information on melanoma or other skin disorders with your dermatologist. Download or print these brochures and bring them to your next appointment.

Open melanoma brochure Open skin disorders brochure
The risk of melanoma increases as you age. The average age at diagnosis is 65.
Source: American Cancer Society, 2021

Other types of skin cancer

  • Also known as solar keratosis, AK is a precancerous lesion of the outer layer of skin.
  • Also known as atypical moles, these benign lesions look different than common moles.
  • This is the most common form of skin cancer and usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of the body.
  • This major cancer arises from the outer layer of the skin and mucous membranes.
  • This common, non-cancerous lesion grows on the outer layer of the skin.