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Melanoma and Skin Cancers

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Prognosis, Signs, Causes, and Types

Skin cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are two main classifications of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.

What is Melanoma and Skin Cancer?

Melanoma

Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, affects skin cells that make pigment for the skin called melanocytes. Each year in the United States, an estimated 76,250 new melanoma cases are diagnosed.

It is often difficult to detect melanoma in its early stages, when the cancer is forming, because the melanocytes are located below the epidermis, or the surface of the skin. Once a melanoma grows to a certain size, the cancer cells may metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.

Melanoma can spread (metastasize) quickly to other parts of the body through the lymph or circulatory systems.

Non-melanoma Skin Cancers

Non-melanoma skin cancer affects other cells in the skin. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, together, account for 95 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers.

In both, extra cells form on the surface or below the skin, which becomes a growth. This growth may be benign (non-cancerous and removable) or malignant (cancerous and able to invade nearby tissues).Most of these cancers are easy to detect, because they cause a growth, sore, or other mark on the skin.

Other types of cells located deeper under the skin often involve another medical condition, such as a weakened immune system, and also may become cancerous. These cancers include:

  • Cutaneous lymphoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Risk Factors

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Though the precise cause of melanoma and skin cancer is unknown, the following risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer:

Warning Signs

Warning signs for skin cancer and melanoma include:

Awareness and Early Detection

In an effort to increase public awareness about melanoma, UPMC CancerCenter joins other organizations, nationwide, to promote National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month in May.

UPMC CancerCenter also offers free skin cancer screenings on the third Friday of every month at the Hillman Cancer Center.

More about Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Learn more about the different types of skin cancer from the National Cancer Institute: