In the year 2011, an estimated 70,230 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and about 9,000 patients will die of the disease in the United States. Melanoma is an aggressive type of cancer in which malignant cells form in the skin cells called melanocytes, the cells that color the skin.
The Melanoma Program at Montefiore is one of only a few programs in the nation offering advanced therapies to treat melanomas. Our surgeons are part of a multidisciplinary team of experts at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care that provides a comprehensive treatment plan for patients at all stages of their illness.
Melanoma is one of three types of skin cancer, the others are basal and squamos cell skin cancers. Melanoma is more aggressive than basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer. It comprises only 4-5% of all skin cancers but causes the majority of deaths from skin malignancies. The incidence of melanoma continues to increase dramatically. Melanoma is increasing in men more rapidly than any other malignancy and, in women more rapidly than any other malignancy except lung cancer.
Melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment, causing the skin to tan, or darken. The skin has 2 main layers: the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). When melanoma starts in the skin, the disease is called cutanous melanoma. Melanoma may also occur in the eye and is called ocular melanoma.
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. In women, melanoma often develops on the arms and legs. Melanoma usually occurs in adults, but it is sometimes found in children and adolescents.
Unusual moles, exposure to sunlight, and health history can affect the risk of developing melanoma. Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Find out more.
Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area. These and other symptoms may be caused by melanoma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Find out more.
Tests that examine the skin are used to detect (find) and diagnose melanoma. If a mole or pigmented area of the skin changes or looks abnormal, a skin exam and/or a biopsy can help detect and diagnose melanoma. Find out more.
After melanoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the skin or to other parts of the body. Once there is a diagnosis of melanoma, the physician needs to determine what stage the melanoma is. The process used to find out whether cancer has spread within the skin or to other parts of the body is called staging. Staging will help your physician know if the melanoma has stayed in one area of the body (it is "localized"), or if it has spread ("metastasized") to other parts of the body. Find out more.
There are several treatment options for melanoma, all of which are dependent on your stage of diagnosis. Surgery is the mainstay of therapy, especially for early stage melanoma. We also offer other advanced therapies that may be better suited to the patient's needs. We discuss all treatment options with you and develop the most effective course of action to manage your disease and achieve the best possible outcome. Find out more.
For more information, visit the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.