What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a very serious form of skin cancer. It is a cancer of melanocytes, which are cells that produce 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.

Skin-Diagram Melanoma 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, so it is important to check your skin regularly!

The leading cause of melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources (such as tanning beds). There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan – tanned skin is damaged skin!

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 1200 Canadians will die from melanoma each year. Survival rates are high if melanoma is detected early.

Melanoma Statistics & Facts

  • Melanoma is a very serious and potentially deadly form of skin cancer and is one of the few cancers with incidence rates on the rise
  • The survival rate for melanoma is high if it is detected early and unlike many cancers, melanoma is often clearly visible on the skin
  • In Canada,  melanoma is one of the top 7 most frequently occurring cancers and incidence rates have more than tripled in the last 30 years
  • It takes only one blistering sunburn to double a person’s chances of developing melanoma
  • Melanoma is one of the most common types of cancer for youth between the ages of 15-29
  • Life-time risk for melanoma is now 1 in 63 versus 1 in 1500 in the 1930s
  • In North America, one person dies from melanoma every hour
  • Melanoma can affect anyone regardless of sex, age, or race
  • The leading cause of melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources (tanning beds, sunlamps)
  • UV rays can get through clouds, fog and haze. Water, sand, concrete and especially snow can reflect, and even increase, the sun’s burning rays
  • You are at a higher risk for melanoma if you have fair skin, red or blond hair, freckle easily, have many moles, have a close family history of melanoma, a history of severe burns, excessive exposure to UV light from the sun or use of tanning beds amongst other risk factors
  • Early exposure to tanning beds can increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma by up to 75%

Canadian Cancer Society. Melanoma Overview. Available at: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/skin-melanoma/overview/
the Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017.  Available at: http://www.cancer.ca/~/media/cancer.ca/CW/cancer%20information/cancer%20101/Canadian%20cancer%20statistics/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2017-EN.pdf?la=en
National Cancer Institute. What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin/
World Health Organization. Skin cancers. Available at: ttp://who.int/uv/faq/skincancer/en/index1.html
“The Association of Use of Sunbeds with Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers: A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Cancer 120, no. 5(2006): 1116 – 1122. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.22453/abstract.

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