The Silent Killer

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.  Cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors: sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics).

Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. Melanoma kills an estimated 8,790 people in the US annually.

The American Cancer Society estimates that at present, about 38,870 in males and 29,260 in women.


Prevention is key. These guidelines include: avoiding UV tanning beds, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, performing head-to-toe exams and yearly professional exams, and daily usage of a broad spectrum sunscreen. 120,000 new cases of melanoma in the US are diagnosed in a year. In 2010, about 68,130 of these were invasive melanomas, with about 38,870 in males and 29,260 in women.

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  • Skin cancer is divided into two groups: melanoma and non-melanoma
  • There are two common types of non-melanoma skin cancer:  basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing form of skin cancer
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of tumor that affects the skin
  • One person dies of melanoma every hour
  • Melanoma kills more young women than any other cancer
  • One in four persons who develop skin cancer is under the age of 40

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Source: Deborah Duffey Kara Vita