Melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, results from an interaction between the genetics of the individual and damage to DNA from external factors. In the case of melanoma, most of the environmental damage is due to exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. The cancer develops in the pigment-producing cells of the skin and can occur elsewhere in the body, including, rarely, inside the eye.
In men, melanoma is most commonly found on the back and other places on the trunk (from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. The most common sites in women are the arms and the legs.
The best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is to practice good sun protection, conduct monthly self-exams to look for new or changed moles and birthmarks, and see your physician regularly. People in Asian, Hispanic, and African-American populations are at less risk than Caucasians; when they do develop melanoma, it is most likely on the soles of the feet, the palms, between the toes and fingers, and under the toenails and fingernails, according to the Melanoma Education Foundation based in Peabody, Mass.
A team of health care professionals in the Center for Melanoma Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center focuses exclusively on melanoma treatment and research, including conducting a variety of clinical trials.
The ACS provides a wealth of advice on prevention and early detection of melanoma. The Melanoma Education Foundation offers an illustrated guide to recognizing warning signs of melanoma; and DF/BWCC’s Jennifer Lin, MD, talks about myths and truths about melanoma.