What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer. It starts in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are what give skin its color.

Melanoma can happen anywhere on the skin. Men usually get it on the part of the body between the shoulders and the hips called the trunk. They may also get it on their head or neck.

Women usually get it on their arms and lower legs. Sometimes melanoma may occur even on areas of the skin that are never exposed to sunlight. It may even occur in the eye, under a fingernail or toenail, or in the nose and sinuses, or in other parts of the body.

What are the different types of melanoma?

Melanoma starts when normal melanocytes become cancerous. When cancer cells are on the skin, the cancer is called cutaneous melanoma.

Cutaneous melanomas come in these types:

Superficial spreading. This is the most common form, making up about 70% of all cutaneous melanomas. These often grow along the skin for a long time before invading the skin more deeply. They often have irregular shapes and are several shades of brown or other colors, such as black, blue, or red.

Nodular. These are often black, dome-shaped lesions. They tend to grow vertically, into deeper skin layers.

Acral lentiginous. These are found on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, under a nail (subungual), or on mucous membranes, such as the mouth, rectum, or vagina (mucosal). This type makes up a larger portion of melanomas in people with naturally darker skin.

Lentigo maligna. These are common in older people. They are typically flat and large, spreading widely along the surface of the skin. They often begin as benign lesions on the face or other sun-exposed area.

Desmoplastic or neurotropic. These melanomas show up as small nodules on the skin, which are nonpigmented (light in color). They can travel and grow along nerves in the skin and can cause fibrous tissue to develop.

Amelanotic melanoma. These melanomas are often pink or flesh-colored. They are variants of the more common melanomas because they don’t make pigment.

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