Melanoma is a tumor that arises in the ‘melanocyte’ cells in your skin that carry melanin, the pigment protein that gives you a tan and that makes moles brown.
For reasons that may have to do with DNA sun-damage, and possibly heredity, a local nest of melanocytes sometimes starts to proliferate uncontrollably. Typically, though not always, it happens in a mole.
Signs & Symptoms
The general advice is to treat any change in a mole as a possible symptom of melanoma. Moles can darken, they can take on an irregular shape, they can grow vertically, or they can develop serrated, saw-toothed edges.
There are non-pigmented melanomas, too. These are comparatively rare, but they should be watched for as well, particularly if melanoma runs in the family.
Lastly, though melanomas are associated with moles, it should be noted that they can occur anywhere on the body, even under nails or inside eyes.
Close monitoring and early detection are absolutely vital in this, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
If the proliferation is caught early, and isn’t very deep, surgical removal is curative.
If the proliferation has penetrated deep skin, prompt removal is necessary, and your dermatologist must now also watch for signs of new melanomas elsewhere, partly because you may have a genetic vulnerability to melanoma, and partly because your particular melanoma may have seeded others.
If your melanoma has spread, locally or systemically, you will need referral to an oncologist.
Survival of melanoma varies hugely, depending on the type and stage of the melanoma at the point of discovery and treatment. Your doctor must counsel on this.