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Melanoma of the Skin

A disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in melanocytes (cells that color the skin).

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Melanoma of the Skin

Melanoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in melanocytes (cells that color the skin).

The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:

Read more about Melanoma of the Skin

Photos of Moles
NIH - National Cancer Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Treatments for melanoma (an aggressive type of skin cancer) that has spread to other tissues.

There are no randomised trials comparing the effects of systemic therapies for metastatic cutaneous melanoma with best supportive care or placebo. Cutaneous melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. When it has spread (metastatic cutaneous melanoma), the prognosis is very poor. Current practice, based upon the results of non comparative studies, is to use different forms of chemotherapy (anti cancer drugs) as well as drugs that try to affect the immune system's response to the cancer. Combinations of these two types of therapy have improved the outcome in some forms of cancers, and are used for melanoma. However the review found no trials which compared the outcome of treatments, used alone or in combination, with the outcome of best supportive care or placebo.

Interventions for preventing of non‐melanoma skin cancers in high‐risk groups

Non‐melanoma skin cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK, the United States and Australia. People at increased risk of getting non‐melanoma skin cancer include those with lowered immunity, a history of non‐melanoma skin cancer, rare inherited genetic skin disorders, trauma to the skin, exposure to arsenic, albinism or having had psoralen and ultraviolet A treatment. Very few studies have been conducted in people at increased risk of NMSC.

Currently there is no clear evidence that cholesterol drugs reduce melanoma risk.

Some studies have suggested that medicines (such as statins and fibrates) taken to lower blood cholesterol may reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer. Our review of 16 studies did not find any clear evidence to support such a suggestion, but we cannot exclude a useful effect of such drugs until more studies become available.

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Summaries for consumers

Treatments for melanoma (an aggressive type of skin cancer) that has spread to other tissues.

There are no randomised trials comparing the effects of systemic therapies for metastatic cutaneous melanoma with best supportive care or placebo. Cutaneous melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. When it has spread (metastatic cutaneous melanoma), the prognosis is very poor. Current practice, based upon the results of non comparative studies, is to use different forms of chemotherapy (anti cancer drugs) as well as drugs that try to affect the immune system's response to the cancer. Combinations of these two types of therapy have improved the outcome in some forms of cancers, and are used for melanoma. However the review found no trials which compared the outcome of treatments, used alone or in combination, with the outcome of best supportive care or placebo.

Interventions for preventing of non‐melanoma skin cancers in high‐risk groups

Non‐melanoma skin cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK, the United States and Australia. People at increased risk of getting non‐melanoma skin cancer include those with lowered immunity, a history of non‐melanoma skin cancer, rare inherited genetic skin disorders, trauma to the skin, exposure to arsenic, albinism or having had psoralen and ultraviolet A treatment. Very few studies have been conducted in people at increased risk of NMSC.

Currently there is no clear evidence that cholesterol drugs reduce melanoma risk.

Some studies have suggested that medicines (such as statins and fibrates) taken to lower blood cholesterol may reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer. Our review of 16 studies did not find any clear evidence to support such a suggestion, but we cannot exclude a useful effect of such drugs until more studies become available.

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Terms to know

Basal Cells
A small, round cell found in the lower part (or base) of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.
Dysplastic Nevus
A type of nevus (mole) that looks different from a common mole. A dysplastic nevus is often larger with borders that are not easy to see. Its color is usually uneven and can range from pink to dark brown. Parts of the mole may be raised above the skin surface.
Melanin
A pigment that gives color to skin and eyes and helps protect it from damage by ultraviolet light.
Melanocytes
A cell in the skin and eyes that produces and contains the pigment called melanin.
Mole (Nevus)
A benign (not cancer) growth on the skin that is formed by a cluster of melanocytes (cells that make a substance called melanin, which gives color to skin and eyes).
Skin
The outer covering of the body that protects it from the environment.
Skin Cancer
Cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer.
Squamous Cells
Flat cell that looks like a fish scale under a microscope. These cells cover inside and outside surfaces of the body. They are found in the tissues that form the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body (such as the bladder, kidney, and uterus), and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

More about Melanoma of the Skin

Photo of an adult

Also called: Cutaneous melanoma, Cutaneous malignant melanoma, Malignant melanoma of the skin, Skin melanoma

Other terms to know: See all 8
Basal Cells, Dysplastic Nevus, Melanin

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