We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Malignant Melanoma?

By S. Scolari
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Malignant melanoma is a tumor of the pigment-producing cells of the skin. Pigment cells are located all over the dermis (skin) and supply the skin's color. Pigment cells are more heavily concentrated in moles. When one of these pigment cells becomes malignant, it produces a tumor called a melanoma. Melanomas can appear anywhere; in parts of the skin which previously looked normal or in moles which have been present for a long time.

Melanoma is frequently called a skin cancer because it derives from the cells of the skin. This definition is not entirely correct, as melanoma differs from typical skin cancer in two respects. Not only is melanoma fairly rare, it may metastasize to other parts of the body, something which typical skin cancers do not normally do. Because of this tendency to spread, patients with melanoma are usually referred to specialists for treatment.

What is usually meant by the term "skin cancer" is a common tumor called a basal cell carcinoma. These types of tumors tend not to spread and are normally cured by simple treatments such as excision (surgery) or cryosurgery (freezing).

While the exact cause is unknown, melanoma occurs more often in people with fair complexions whose skin burns easily. Melanoma is thought to occur more frequently in people who received a number of blistering sunburns in childhood.

Melanoma is not contagious and cannot be transmitted by physical contact. However, either because of their genetic makeup or their inherited skin coloring, the children of melanoma patients tend to have a slightly elevated risk of developing melanoma.

When melanoma spreads, some of its malignant cells invade either the local blood vessels or the lymphatic vessels, which carry lymph fluid to lymph node groups. If malignant cells invade the lymph vessels, their fluid can carry them to the lymph nodes. If malignant cells invade the blood vessels, they may be carried by the blood to distant parts of the body.

When melanoma spreads, the most likely site for it to reappear is in the lymph nodes that are closest to the original tumor site. For example, if the primary melanoma was on the arm, the closest lymph nodes would be in the armpit. If the primary tumor was on the leg, the closest nodes would be the groin; for the head, the adjacent lymph nodes are in the neck. For a primary melanoma on the trunk, the proximate lymph nodes would be the groin or the armpit.

In 2002, a staging system for malignant melanoma was developed.

Stage I: primary melanoma of a certain size without ulceration, no lymph node involvement, and no metastases (secondary tumors.)

Stage II: primary melanomas that are somewhat larger but which also lack ulceration, lymph node involvement, or metastases.

Stage III: metastasis to the lymph nodes, or in-transit metastases/satellites, with no distant metastases.

Stage IV: Distant metastases. Melanomas which progress to this stage are frequently fatal.

With the destruction of the ozone layer, more harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays reach the skin. The daily use of a sun block of at least Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 may help to prevent some skin cancers and premature aging of the skin.

It is important for everyone to be aware of their skin and to note any changes such as small pearly bumps, spots that refuse to heal, or changes in moles, and to seek treatment from a medical doctor at the first sign of such changes.

Many skin cancers have a high rate of cure if caught early enough.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On May 09, 2011

Melanomas can turn up in strange places. The father of one of my friends showed his doctor a black spot under his fingernail and it turned out to be a melanoma skin cancer. They had to remove the last joint of his finger.

I've also heard of them appearing on the scalp or between people's toes. Or even inside the mouth.

It's smart to get to know what your skin should look like, so you know when it doesn't look right.

By bythewell — On May 08, 2011

My mother was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma skin cancer last year. Thank god, it was only in stage one, with no lymph node involvement, but she still had to have a large part of her upper arm removed to ensure they got it all.

She didn't get the mole checked for almost two years, thinking it was just another strange spot on her skin.

But, it was like a ticking time bomb. She could have progressed to stage four at any time.

If you have any doubts at all about a mole, you should definitely get tested. There are free screening clinics in a lot of countries.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.