What is Melanoma?

What is Melanoma? 

Melanoma is a very serious form of skin cancer. It is a cancer of melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin, the pigment that is primarily responsible for giving skin its colour. When skin is exposed to UV light, melanocytes make more melanin. Since most melanocytes are found in the deepest part of the epidermis (top layer of your skin) melanoma of the skin is the most common.

Unlike other cancers, melanoma can often be seen on the skin. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin. In men, melanoma may often be found on the head, neck, and back. In women, melanoma may often be found on the back or lower legs. Melanoma forms in the epidermis and can grow down into the dermis.

What is MelanomaMelanoma is a dangerous type of skin cancer because it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Once it reaches the dermis (thick layer below the epidermis), melanoma can easily spread through the blood and lymph vessels. It is extremely important to find and remove melanomas early. Survival rate for melanoma is high if detected early and unlike other cancers, melanoma is often clearly visible on the skin. Use the ABCDE’s of melanoma to check your skin monthly.

Leading Causes

The leading cause of melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources (tanning beds, sunlamps) .According to World Health Organization (WHO) 85% of melanomas among Canadian men and women aged 30+ years are attributed to UV radiation exposure.

There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan – tanned skin is damaged skin! Learn how to stay sun safe here

Melanoma Rates on the Rise

Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers worldwide. In Canada, incidences of melanoma have more than tripled in the last 30 years and continue to rise. Over 1,300 Canadians will die from melanoma each year. Survival rates are high if melanoma is detected early. Learn more about melanoma stats and facts here.

If your doctor suspects you may have melanoma, you may be referred to dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in disease of the skin. Melanoma is classified into different types. Classification is based on their colour, shape, location, and how they grow. Learn more about the different types of melanoma here.

How to Detect Melanoma 

When spotted early, melanoma has a cure rate of 85%. Learn to spot the ABCDE’s of melanoma.

Are You at Risk for Melanoma

Take a melanoma risk assessment.

Free Melanoma Support

The Melanoma Network of Canada has a number of free services for patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.