Melanoma is a common, serious form of skin cancer that develops in the cells where melanin is produced. It can also develop in the eyes and sometimes the internal organs. It is most common in places that have had sun exposure, including the back, face, arms and legs. For those with darker skin, it can appear in spots that do not see much sun, including the bottoms of your feet, between your toes, scalp, fingernail beds and palms of your hands.

Moles tend to be a tan, brown or black color with a distinct outline. They are normally round or oval and smaller than a quarter inch (pencil eraser). The average person has between 10 and 45 moles, many of which are developed by 50 years old. The best way to look for melanoma or an unusual mole is to remember ABCDE. This stands for:

  • Asymmetrical shape
  • Irregular Border
  • Changes in color
  • Diameter (larger than a quarter inch is unusual)
  • Evolving (size, color or shape that changes over time, or itching and bleeding)

While there is no specific cause of melanoma, there are risk factors that include:

  • History of sunburn (especially sunburns with blisters)
  • Fair skin (less pigment)
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Excessive exposure to UV radiation (sun or tanning beds and lamps)
  • Living near the equator or higher elevation
  • Having a lot of moles
  • Weak immune system

Melanoma is a very serious, sometimes deadly skin cancer. If caught early it can be treated. The best thing to do for your skin and your health is to avoid sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are at their peak. Also, be sure to wear sunglasses, protect clothing and always wear sunscreen, even on a cloudy day. If you are suspicious of any moles or spots you have, contact your physician.