Melanoma is a malignant tumor of melanocytes. The tumors are generally found in the skin, but may also appear in the bowel and the eye (uveal melanoma). Melanoma is a type of skin cancer - one of the rarer types - but the cause of most skin cancer related deaths. Malignant melanoma is caused by an uncontrolled growth of skin pigment cells (melancytes). The word "melanoma" comes from the Ancient Greek melas meaning "black", and the Ancient Greek oma meaning "disease, morbidity".

What is the difference between skin cancer and melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. Imagine the words bananas and fruit. All bananas (malignant melanoma)s are fruits (skin cancers), but not all fruits (skin cancers) are bananas (malignant melanomas). There are three main types of skin cancers:

    • Basal Cell Carcinoma - Sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancer. It usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the patient's hands, neck or head. Sometimes, the nodules may appear on the trunk of the body (mostly as flat growths). 90% of skin cancers are this type in the USA and UK. Basal cell carcinoma is easy to diagnose and is mostly easy to treat successfully. If left untreated it can spread to other parts of the body and can extend below the skin to the bone, causing significant local damage. People with basal cell carcinoma are at higher risk of developing other skin cancers.Basal Cell Carcinoma is most commonly found among Caucasians. It very rarely occurs among dark-skinned patients. Among Caucasians, people with light hair, light colored eyes, and fair complexions are much more likely to get it, compared to Caucasions with darker colored eyes, hair and complexions.
    • Squamous Cell Carcinoma -Sometimes referred to as non-melanoma carcinoma, it often appears as nodules on the skin. It is usually found on the rim of the ear, face, mouth and lips, but can also spread elsewhere in the body. It can also appear as red, scaly patches. It is generally found in the skin of Caucasian people, especially those with very fair skin. It is more aggressive than Basal Cell Carcinoma, but is still fairly easy to treat successfully.
  • Malignant Melanoma - Cancer cells are found in the melanocytes - the pigment cells of the skin, also known as melanin. Although it is extremely rare in teenagers and children, there have been cases. It is predominately found in adults. This is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Fortunately, it is also the rarest.


MNT Article Date: 17 Jun 2009 - 5:00 PDT