Melanoma rates have been rising for the last 30 years. These cancers begin in the melanocyte cells in deepest part of the skin (the epidermis), where a brown pigment called melanin is produced.
While melanomas can form in other parts of the body (eyes, mouth and genitals), these areas are much less common than in the skin.
When melanocytes become cancerous, they usually form melanoma tumors that are brown or black because they are still producing melanin. However, they can also appear on the skin as pink, tan or white growths because not all melanomas produce melanin.
Although melanomas can appear anywhere, the trunk (chest and back) is the most common site in men while the legs are the most common site in women. The neck and face are also common locations for a melanoma.
Because most melanomas are caused by sun damage, having darkly pigmented skin lowers your risk. However, anyone can develop this cancer on sites not exposed to the skin, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and under the nails.
Although melanomas are much less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, they are much more dangerous because they are more likely to spread to other parts of the body that are hard to treat.
Fortunately, melanomas are almost always curable when caught in the early stages.