Melanoma is the most serious and deadly type of skin cancer. Although melanomas make up the smallest percentage of all skin cancers, they cause the greatest number of deaths. That’s because they’re more likely to spread to different parts of your body. And the incidence of melanoma is on the rise.
Melanoma occurs when something goes awry in the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) that give color to your skin. Normally, skin cells develop in a controlled and orderly way — healthy new cells push older cells toward your skin’s surface, where they die and eventually are sloughed off. This process is controlled by DNA — the genetic material that contains the instructions for every chemical and biological process in your body. But when DNA is damaged, new cells may begin to grow out of control and can eventually form a mass of cancerous cells.
Just what damages DNA in skin cells and how this leads to melanoma is a matter of intense study. Cancer is a complex disease that often results from a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic factors, rather than from a single cause. Still, excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a leading factor in the development of melanoma, whether the radiation is from the sun or from tanning lamps and beds.