Melanoma: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.
  • About 70,230 new melanomas will be diagnosed (about 40,010 in men and 30,220 women) [in 2011]. Incidence rates for melanoma have been rising for at least 30 years.
  • About 8790 people are expected to die of melanoma (about 5, 750 men and 3,040 women). The death rate has been dropping since the 1990s for those younger than 50, but has been stable or rising in those older than 50.
  • Melanoma is more than 10 times more common in whites than in African Americans. It is slightly more common in men than in women.


Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It’s the leading cause of death from skin disease.

Your skin is comprised of various layers. In the top layer (epidermis) are melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for your skin and hair color.

Melanoma may begin on normal skin or it may begin as a mole (nevus) or other area that has changed in appearance.  Some moles that are present at birth may develop into melanomas.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Melanoma is more common in people who:

  • Are fair skinned
  • Have blonde or red hair
  • Have freckles
  • Tend to sunburn

How Does Melanoma Grow?

Melanoma often begins as cancerous cells appearing as a discolored mole. It can grow deeply into your skin, invading your bloodstream or lymphatic system. From there, melanoma can spread (metastasize) to other parts of your body.

What Should I Do If I Have Melanoma?

The Scott & White Skin Cancer Team recommends immediate and thorough removal of your melanoma lesion.

Will My Melanoma Return?

In some cases, your melanoma may return (recur). If you’ve had melanoma, you are more likely to get it again than someone who has never had melanoma.

How Many Kinds of Melanoma Are There?

There are four primary types of melanoma:

Superficial spreading melanoma

  • Most common type: 70 percent of cases
  • Usually flat and irregular in shape and color
  • Has different shades of black and brown
  • Most common in Caucasians

Nodular melanoma

  • Usually begins as a raised area that is dark blackish-blue or bluish-red
  • Some have no color
  • Second most common type: 15 percent of cases

Lentigo maligna melanoma

  • Usually occurs in the elderly
  • Most common in sun-damaged skin on your:
    • Face
    • Neck
    • Arms
  • Rare: 10 percent of cases

Acral lentiginous melanoma

  • Least common form
  • Usually occurs:
    • On palms
    • On soles of feet
    • Under nails
  • More common in African Americans
  • Very rare: 5 percent of cases

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