Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. Unlike non-melanoma skin cancers (basal and squamous cell carcinomas), melanoma can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body. However, when detected early and treated, the cure rate can be very high.

Melanoma most often develops as a new growth, not in an existing mole. However, it is hard to memorize all existing moles, so regular skin checks looking for the following is important. The earlier the detection of the melanoma, the easier it is to treat.

  • A mole that is growing, changing shape, or changing color
  • A mole that looks scaly, oozes, or bleeds
  • New, dark spot on the skin that looks like a mole, but grows quickly
  • Pain, itch, or bleeding in a new spot on the skin
  • A streak (usually brown or black) underneath a fingernail or toenail
  • A bruise on the foot that does not heal

It is important to know that melanoma can also develop in the eyes, mouth, and genitals. Regular examination of these sites by a health care professional is recommended to screen for melanoma in these areas.

Risk Factors

Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. Ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun and indoor tanning beds can cause skin cancer. Not all melanomas are caused entirely by UV rays. Heredity also plays a role. Research shows that if a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child ) had melanoma, a person has a greater risk of getting melanoma.

In addition to a family history and UV exposure, some people have a higher risk of developing melanoma including those with:

  • Light skin, hair, and eyes
  • Fair skin that tans poorly or burns easily
  • Red or blond hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • 50 or more small moles
  • Moles called “atypical nevi” or “dysplastic nevi”
  • Past blistering sunburns or a history of indoor tanning
  • A previous melanoma or other skin cancer
  • Weak immune system (due to disease, organ transplant, or medicine)

Men over 50 are at a higher risk of developing melanoma compared to the rest of the general public. Melanoma can also affect younger people. In fact, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females age 15-29 years old.


Dr. Hendricks and his Physician Assistants will look carefully at all skin and examine growths, moles, and dry patches. To get a better look, they may use a device called a dermatoscope or magnifying lens that helps to see pigment and structures in the lesion.

Concerning lesions will be biopsied. This involves biopsying the lesion or a sample of it for microscopic evaluation by a pathologist. A biopsy is quick, safe, and easy for a Dr. Hendricks and his Physician Assistants to perform, usually in the same visit as your skin exam. A biopsy should not cause anxiety. The discomfort and risks are minimal.


American Academy of Dermatology