What is melanoma?

It’s officially May, which means one thing for us dermatologists. May is Melanoma Awareness Month! You can look forward to a month of blogs dedicated to issues surrounding melanoma and increasing your knowledge of how serious it is. But first things first: what is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the pigment cells of the skin, called melanocytes. With about 50,000 new cases being diagnosed in the United States every year, this skin cancer can be more serious than others due to the fact that it can spread to other parts of the body.


It’s a big word, but it’s function is simple: melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Hence, exposed skin causes melanocytes to produce more pigment, or darker skin color. The reason melanocytes are of importance is because sometimes, clusters of melanocytes and surrounding tissues form noncancerous growths commonly known as moles.

Many people mistake moles for cancerous growth – in fact, most melanomas do not form in existing moles. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, which is why I highly recommend getting a checkup with a dermatologist regularly to perform skin exams to spot anything of concern. The best way to detect melanoma? Follow these ABCDE’s:

Skin cancer is so important because essentially, the skin is the body’s largest organ! It can protect us against a myriad of things, from heat to infections and injury. That’s why it’s essential that you keep a look out for any dark spots or unusual growths on your skin – melanoma is no joke. Patients are usually the first to notice something, given that melanoma is visible on your skin. We’ll be discussing more on this in blogs to come – stay tuned!

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