Is it melanoma?

Many questions arise when it comes to understanding melanoma: What is it? How can I identify it? Why is melanoma so deadly? What information do I need to know about melanoma to help me or help others?

If you think you have melanoma, or if you have been recently diagnosed with melanoma, you need to know the facts. The truth is, informed and empowered melanoma patients live longer, better lives. By learning everything you can about this disease – including how to catch it early, how to prevent it and lower your risk, and what to expect if you are diagnosed – you’ve already made important strides towards understanding melanoma. Most importantly, you will learn that you are not alone.

The basic facts about melanoma

Melanoma is a type of cancer, most often of the skin. It occurs in melanocytes, the cells that color the skin and make moles, or nevi. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to lymph nodes and distant organs. In 2016, it is expected that approximately 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Stage I-IV  melanoma, resulting in nearly 10,000 deaths. In addition, it is estimated that another 68,000 melanoma in situ will be diagnosed - that's a total of approximately 144,000 melanoma diagnoses in 2016!

According to SEER data, there are an estimated 996,000 people living with melanoma in the United States.

Melanoma is classified in a few different ways:

  • Cutaneous melanoma, which occurs on the skin and is the most common type of melanoma
  • Mucosal melanoma, a rare form of melanoma that occurs in the mucous membranes, such as the nasal passages, throat, vagina, anus or mouth
  • Ocular melanoma (or uveal melanoma), a rare form of melanoma that occurs in the eye
  • Metastatic melanoma, not a type of melanoma, but a term used for melanoma that has spread beyond the original site to the lymph nodes or to distant organs

Want to learn more about melanoma? Download and print the MRF’s “It’s a Fact” sheet (PDF).

The importance of prevention and early detection

Wondering how to prevent melanoma? Research suggests that nearly 90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Protecting your skin from UV radiation, like the sun and tanning beds, and performing monthly skin checks can help save your life.

Newly diagnosed patients should have a clear understanding of the following:

Clinical Trials

When melanoma is diagnosed at a later stage (Stage III-IV), a clinical trial is often considered the best treatment option. Patients who participate in clinical trials have access to emerging treatments that would be otherwise unavailable and help to advance the development of more effective therapies. The MRF's Clinical Trial Finder is a free, personalized and confidential service that can match patients to a clinical trial that may be right for them. Note: This will take you to the EmergingMed website page that fully describes this free service.


Still have questions or want more information about melanoma? Contact us, or visit our Resource Library.