Melanoma is defined as a serious type of skin cancer in which the skin color pigment or melanin-producing cells or melanocytes undergo mutation and become cancerous.

Melanoma can be identified by the appearance of moles or colored patches on the body. Existing moles might also be melanoma and need to be regularly checked for their shape, size, and color to make sure they do not change and thus prove that they are not cancerous melanoma moles.


Causes of Melanoma

There are several factors which could be causative agents leading to melanoma.

Melanoma occurs when something goes wrong with melanocytes. Under normal conditions melanocytes function in an orderly, controlled manner in which new skin cells push old skin cells up to the surface where older skin cells die and fall off. However, when DNA is damaged, new cells grow in an uncontrolled manner and form a large cancerous mass.

The exact cause for uncontrolled growth of skin cells is yet to be ascertained, but it is believed that various factors lead to the formation of a cancerous mass of cells. These include exposure to UV rays of the sun and also the rays from tanning beds and lamps.

However, sometimes melanoma occurs in places on the body not exposed to the sun, such as soles of the feet, fingernail beds, or palms. This indicates that there are other risk factors that could lead to melanoma apart from UV rays.


Risk Factors That May Increase the Chances of Melanoma

History of sunburn—Individuals who have a history of severe and blistering sunburn are at risk of developing melanoma.

Fair Skin—those having less melanin (fair skinned) or having red hair, or freckles, or light-colored eyes are likely to suffer from melanoma. Hispanics and black individuals can also develop the disease.

Exposure to excessive UV rays—frequently using tanning beds and lamps or excessive exposure to UV rays of the sun can increase the risk of melanoma.

Existence of several moles or unusual moles—having several moles, for example more than 50 moles, increases the chances of developing melanoma. In individuals with an existence of moles that are unusual, termed as dysplastic nevi, which have irregular borders, are larger than normal moles, and have a mixture of color, the risk of developing melanoma also increases.

Family history of melanoma—the risk of melanoma increases in those who have a parent, sibling, or child suffering from the disease.

Living at an elevation or closer to the equator—those living atan elevation have more exposure to UV rays of the sun and greater risk of developing melanoma. Similarly, those living close to the equator of the Earth have greater exposure to the direct sun rays and are at higher risk than those living at higher altitudes.

Weak immune system—Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as those who have undergone an organ transplant, are at greater risk of developing melanoma.