What is melanoma?
There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the least common of the three, but is the most serious as it can spread the most easily.
Melanin is the pigment that changes the body’s skin colour in order to protect it from the sun. When we tan, our body produces melanin as a defence against the sun’s rays. Melanin is produced by special cells called melanocytes that are in the top layer of our skin. Melanocytes are also in moles and freckles.
Melanoma is when melanocytes grow in an uncontrolled and abnormal way. It most commonly starts in parts of the skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the arms, face, upper body and legs. Some rare melanomas can develop in parts of the body that rarely or never see the sun, such as soles of a person’s feet, the lining of the mouth or the nervous system. Melanomas are usually diagnosed when a person notices an unusual mole and their doctor examines it. The doctor may look at the person’s skin through a magnifying instrument called a dermatoscope and take a tissue sample to to look for signs of cancer.