The most serious and dangerous skin cancer is melanoma. This deadly skin cancer has been increasing in incidence worldwide. The cancer develops from the skin cells that develop the pigment, melanin. Although melanoma is not a common skin cancer, it is associated with the highest number of deaths. Unlike the other skin cancers, it has the ability to rapidly spread into the body.

Like the other skin cancers, exposure to sunlight is the biggest risk factor for melanoma. In addition, the use of sun lamps and tanning booths are also associated with an increase in the risk of melanoma.

Despite being a frightening cancer, melanoma can be prevented and the cancer does have a few warning signs. If the cancer is caught in its early stage, it can be cured.

Even though melanomas are common on sun exposed areas, the cancer can also occur on non sun exposed areas also. The cancer is most common on the

- back

- legs

- arms

- face

Non sun exposed areas

Melanomas have a distinct ability to occur on the non sunexposed area such as:

- on the palms

- soles

- scalp

- genitals

- in-between the toes

These areas commonly referred to as hidden spaces are not usually inspected by the individual or the physician. Melanomas in dark skinned individuals and blacks have a habit of occurring in these hidden areas.

Melanoma under a nail. Melanomas can also occur under a nail and may be mistaken for an injured nail with blood collection. This is a common presentation in black individuals. These Subungual melanomas usually increase in size and can spread. Anytime, a lesion under the nail does not heal or continues to grow, should lead one to suspect a melanoma.

Melanoma in the mouth and stomach: Melanoma can occur in many parts of the body including the mouth, esophagus and stomach. The melanomas of the mouth are very difficult to detect and may present as an ulcer. Melanoma may also occur on the anus and are frequently mistaken for hemorrhoids. The only way to detect these rare cases of melanomas is to have a high index of suspicion, a good physical exam and an astute physician.

Eye Melanoma: Melanomas can also develop in the eye because there are some melanin pigment cells in the rear of the eye. These melanomas usually are not obvious and are found on an incidental eye exam. These eye melanomas are linked to excess sun exposure and almost incurable because most times they have spread to the inside of the brain by the time the diagnosis is made. The best way to avoid these eye melanomas is to wear a decent pair of sun glasses which blocks most of UV light

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in an existing mole or the development of a new, unusual-looking growth on the skin. But melanoma can also occur on otherwise normal appearing skin.

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