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Understanding Melanoma: From Causes to Treatment

Melanoma, a term that brings a sense of urgency and concern, is a serious form of skin cancer that originates in the cells known as melanocytes, responsible for giving your skin its color. While melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer, its potential for aggressiveness and spread to other parts of the body makes it more dangerous.


Causes of Melanoma

The primary cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whether from direct sunlight or artificial sources like tanning beds. When UV rays penetrate the skin, they can damage the DNA in melanocytes. While the body can repair some of this damage, at times, the DNA mutations persist, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and the formation of malignant tumors. Factors that may increase the risk of developing melanoma include:

  • A history of sunburns, especially blistering ones in childhood
  • High sun exposure, particularly without protective clothing or sunscreen
  • The presence of many moles or unusual moles
  • A family history of melanoma
  • Fair skin, light hair, and light-colored eyes
  • A weakened immune system


Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, not only in areas exposed to the sun. It's commonly found on the back in men and on the legs in women. The first signs of melanoma are changes in an existing mole or the appearance of a new, unusual growth on the skin. The ABCDE rule can help you remember what to look for: Asymmetry: One half of the mole doesn't match the other. Border: Irregular, ragged, or blurred edges. Color: Varied shades of brown, black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue. Diameter: A significant change in size, typically greater than 6mm. Evolving: Any change in size, shape, color, or symptom (such as bleeding, itching, or crusting).

Stages of Melanoma

Melanoma is categorized into stages based on thickness, ulceration, and the spread to lymph nodes or other body parts: Stage 0: Melanoma is only in the outermost layer of skin. Stage I-II: Melanoma is invasive but confined to the skin, with varying thickness and possible ulceration. Stage III: Melanoma has spread to one or more nearby lymph nodes. Stage IV: Melanoma has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, brain, bone, or distant lymph nodes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early detection of melanoma significantly increases the chances of successful treatment. If melanoma is suspected, a biopsy will be performed to examine the tissue for cancer cells. Treatment options depend on the stage of melanoma and may include: Surgery: The primary treatment for early-stage melanomas, where the tumor and a margin of normal skin are removed. Immunotherapy: Uses medicines to boost the body's natural defenses against cancer. Targeted therapy: Focuses on specific weaknesses present within cancer cells. Chemotherapy: Involves drugs to kill cancer cells, more commonly used for melanoma that has spread. Radiation therapy: May be used to destroy melanoma cells, typically in advanced stages or to treat symptoms in specific areas.

Preventive Measures and Early Detection

Preventing melanoma starts with protecting your skin from excessive UV exposure. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning.
  • Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.

Regular skin exams by a healthcare professional, along with monthly self-exams, can help detect melanoma early when it is most treatable.


Melanoma, while potentially severe, is highly treatable when caught early. Understanding the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms, and taking preventive measures can significantly reduce your risk. If you notice any changes to your skin or moles, consult with a healthcare professional promptly. For comprehensive melanoma treatment in India, American Oncology Institute is recognized as the top multi-disciplinary oncology hospital known for its expertise and advanced care.