What is Melanoma?

Sunday, May 6, 2012 - 8:27pm
Section Chief, Soft Tissue and Melanoma & Director, IL-2 Program, Department of Medicine

The skin is the largest organ in the body, and skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. There are three primary types of skin cancer - squamous cell, basal cell and melanoma. Of these, melanoma is the most dangerous, accounting for only 5% of skin cancer cases but responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths.

The term “melanoma” is derived from the type of cell in which it affects called the melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the pigment of your skin, which is known as melanin.

Melanoma has been on the rise in the last 30 years, particularly among young adults. It affects more Caucasians than any other population and is predicted to kill 9,180 in 2012.

The greatest risk factor for melanoma is prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet radiation (UV) released by the sun. This time of year we spend a lot of time outdoors. It is important to do everything you can to protect your skin, even on overcast days. Make sure you apply and reapply sunscreen frequently and wear protective gear, like wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

Remember that every sunburn you receive increases your chances of skin cancer later in life.

Avoid indoor tanning booths, as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared tanning beds carcinogenic in 2009. This means they were found to be just as likely to cause cancer and other harm as cigarettes, asbestos and arsenic.  If you are still considering using a tanning bed, I encourage you to listen to our Roswellness Radio show on the topic of Skin Cancer and Tanning and hear from Scott Hangauer, a melanoma survivor, on how tanning changed his life.