Understanding Melanoma: Causes, Detection, Prevention & Treatment


Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer in the United States. Melanoma, one type of cancer, results in approximately 8,000 deaths per year. Fortunately, there are simple precautions you can take to lower your risk and innovative treatments are available.

Causes & Risk Factors of Melanoma
The cause of melanoma is believed to be a combination of several environmental and genetic factors. Research suggests that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds is a leading cause. According to the Mayo Clinic, you may be at higher risk of melanoma if you have factors such as fair skin, a history of sunburn, excessive UV exposure, living at the equator or high elevation, having many or unusual moles, a family history of melanoma, or a weakened immune system.

Detecting Melanoma
Early detection of melanoma is critical because it can easily spread to other parts of the body. When scanning your body, look for the ABCDEs.

Asymmetry- one side of the mole does not match the other
Border- edges are uneven, notched, or blurry
Color- multiple shades of brown, black, tan, red, white, or blue
Diameter- anything larger than a pencil eraser
Evolving- change in shape, color, size, texture

Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body. Doctors recommend that you perform regular checks of your skin and report anything new or that fits one or more of the ABCDEs. They can perform an examination or simple test to determine if it is melanoma.

Prevention of Melanoma
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following tips to reduce your risk:
  • Seek shade when appropriate. If your shadow is shorter than you, find shade.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing. Choose light long sleeves and pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV protective sunglasses.
  • Apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. SPF 30 or higher is best anytime you are outside. Reapply every 2 hours.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Perform regular self-exams and see a board-certified dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious.
Treatment of Melanoma
Dr. Mollie MacCormack (pictured above) of Foundation Skin Surgery and Dermatology notes that the earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the better the outcome. When it comes to treatment, Dr. MacCormack explains, “It is important to note that the vast majority of melanomas are treated successfully with a small surgical procedure. Even for more advanced disease, the past few years have been transformative for melanoma treatment with new medications achieving previously unimaginable results. So, don't hesitate to have a concerning lesion evaluated by a dermatologist.”

Foundation Skin Surgery and Dermatology provides cutting edge services to address melanoma. Find more information here.

Want to learn more about melanoma? Check out these resources:
Mayo Clinic
American Society of Clinical Oncology
American Cancer Society
Skin Cancer Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Academy of Dermatology

Posted: 4/27/2023