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Skin cancer types: Melanoma Overview


What is melanoma?
A type of skin cancer, melanoma is often called the “most serious skin cancer” because it can spread from the skin to other parts of the body.

Is melanoma contagious? No

Melanoma is highly treatable when found early

While fewer people get melanoma than the more common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, developing melanoma can be more serious. Melanoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

Although melanoma is an aggressive cancer, it’s possible to have a good outcome. When found early before it grows deep or spreads, melanoma is highly treatable.

The key to finding melanoma early is to perform skin self-exams so that you can check your own skin for signs of this skin cancer. Treating melanoma early can prevent complex and difficult treatment that would be necessary if the cancer grows deep or spreads.

Who can get melanoma?

People of all ages and skin colors get melanoma.

Diverse group of people

To help you find melanoma and other skin cancers early, dermatologists encourage everyone to learn the following:

  1. The ABCDEs of melanoma
    Learn to recognize a possible melanoma by learning these 5 warning signs.

  2. How to perform a skin self-exam
    Watch this short video to learn how to check your own skin for signs of melanoma and other skin cancers.

Knowing how to perform a skin self-exam is becoming more important than ever. The number of people developing melanoma and other skin cancers continues to increase.

If you know how to spot a possible skin cancer and when to see a dermatologist, you increase the likelihood that you’ll find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable.

Like other skin cancers, melanoma can develop anywhere on your skin. It may begin on skin that’s had lots of sun exposure, such as the face or hands. It also starts in sun-protected areas, such as the bottom of the foot, beneath a fingernail, or on the genitals.

An early warning sign of melanoma is a spot on your skin that looks different from the rest. Sometimes, it looks like a new or changing mole. Everyone, including people who have skin of color, should be aware of this and check their skin.

Melanoma can also begin on your skin in other ways. You’ll find descriptions and pictures of what this skin cancer can look like at, Melanoma: Signs and symptoms.

Getty Images

Barnhill RL, Mihm MC, et al. “Malignant melanoma.” In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 140-167.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. “NCCN guidelines for patients: Melanoma.” 2018. Last accessed February 12, 2019.