Melanoma is the most serious form
of skin cancer. It begins in the pigment cells (melanocytes, see
diagram right) that produce skin color. Most melanomas can be treated
successfully if they are detected at an early stage. If melanoma
is not detected at an early stage, it can spread to other parts
of the body and is potentially a lethal form of cancer.
Since most pigment cells are in the skin, most melanomas
start on the skin. They can occur in the eye and rarely in the membranes
of the nasal passages, oral, pharyngeal mucosa, vaginal and anal
Most melanomas (70%+) begin in or near an existing
mole or dark spot on the skin. It is important that you know the
size, color and location of moles on your body so that you can take
note of changes in existing moles or the appearance of new moles.
Some "birthmarks" (congenital moles) can also develop
Ordinary Moles are evenly colored, have sharply defined
edges and are round or oval in shape. They can be flat or raised
and are less than 6 millimeters (1/4") in diameter (about the
size of a pencil eraser). Melanomas have an irregular appearance
and are usually larger than an ordinary mole.
Information provided courtesy
of Chiron Corporation