What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma Is a Rare but Aggressive Cancer

Hearing the words “you have skin cancer” is an overwhelming experience and can leave you with a lot of questions. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with melanoma (sometimes called skin or cutaneous melanoma), one of several types of skin cancer, it is important to ask your healthcare team plenty of questions so you know what it means, and the options available to you.


Estimated new diagnoses in the US during 2020


Melanoma represents just 2% of all skin cancers


About 6,850 people are expected to die of melanoma

Cancer of the skin is by far the most common of all cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 130,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in the US during 2020. While melanoma accounts for only about 2% of skin cancers it causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. About 6,850 people are expected to die of melanoma.

How Does Melanoma Form?

Melanoma is thought to be triggered by intense, occasional exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from the sun or tanning beds. When skin cells are damaged by UV light in this way, often showing up as a sunburn, they are more prone to genetic defects that cause them to rapidly multiply and form potentially fatal (malignant) tumors. Melanoma originates in a type of skin cell called melanocytes, which help produce the pigments of our skin, hair, and eyes.

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Can Predict the Risk of Your Melanoma Recurring or Spreading


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What Puts You at Risk for Melanoma?

Melanoma is increasing rapidly and has one of the fastest rising incidence rates of all cancers in the US.
Some risk factors for melanoma are shown below.

Ultraviolet (UV)
Light Exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure

Exposure to UV light can put you at risk. Examples include frequent sun exposure and/or sunburns, sunbathing and tanning beds.

Personal or Family History of Skin Cancer

Personal or Family History of Skin Cancer

Developing any type of skin cancer increases your risk for melanoma. Having first-degree relatives who have had melanoma also increases your risk.

Fair Skin, Freckling,
and Light Hair

Fair Skin, Freckling, and Light Hair

Melanoma occurs most frequently in people with light skin complexions since they are least protected against UV radiation.



Moles are benign tumors that usually do not turn into melanoma, but people with many moles are at higher risk of developing melanoma.

Weakened Immune System

Weakened Immune System

People with organ transplants, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, genetic diseases, or other causes of immunosuppression are at higher risk.

Older Age

Older Age

The likelihood of developing melanoma increases with age, but it can also occur in younger people.

What’s Next?

What Does Melanoma Look Like?

How Do You Get a
DecisionDx®-Melanoma Test?