Melanoma is a cancer that begins in melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colors the skin, hair, and eyes, as well as forms moles. Since most of these pigment cells are found in the skin, melanoma of the skin (cutaneous melanoma) is the most common form of melanoma. However, melanoma can develop in the eye, digestive tract, brain or spinal cord, or other areas where melanocytes are found.
Just as cancer is the general term for the nearly 200 diseases that begin with an uncontrolled growth of cells that can invade and damage normal tissues, researchers are discovering that there are many different types of melanoma, each with their own unique biology and response to treatment options.
Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States and worldwide.
- One in 50 Americans has a lifetime risk of developing invasive melanoma of the skin, the most deadly type of skin cancer.
- Melanoma can strike men and women of all ages, races and skin types.
- While most skin cancers develop around age 50, melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25- to 29-years-old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15- to 29-years-old.
- The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group, soaring by 50 percent in young women since 1980.
Most Americans are unaware of the seriousness of melanoma.
- Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other areas of the body compared to the other types of skin cancer (basal and squamous cell carcinoma).
- If not caught early, melanoma is known to be the most deadly of all skin cancers. Melanoma can be successfully removed and monitored by regular skin screenings in its early stages. However, the disease is deadly in its most advanced stages as few treatment options exist. The median lifespan for patients with advanced melanoma is less than one year.
- It is estimated that in 2008 more than 62,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disease, resulting in 8,400 deaths (approximately one every hour).
- Melanoma primarily affects individuals in the prime of their lives—the mean age for diagnosis of melanoma is 50, while for many other cancers it is 65- to 70-years old.