Ask the Expert

What are the signs of melanoma to look for and what is the best way to prevent its occurrence?

Question: I recently read that the incidence of melanoma is on the rise. What are the signs of melanoma to look for and what is the best way to prevent its occurrence?

Answer: There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma. With approximately 75,000 new diagnoses expected this year in the US, according to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is the least common of these three forms of skin cancer (less than 5% of all skin cancers). However, it is the most aggressive and dangerous.

When changes in skin cells, called melanocytes, occur – often due to sun exposure and other genetic and environmental factors – it turns into a cancer and becomes melanoma. Less commonly, melanoma can start in areas that are not exposed to the sun, such as in the eye and mucous membranes. While the exact cause of melanoma is not yet know, we do know some of the risk factors, which include: exposure to the sun, use of tanning beds, a personal or family history of melanoma, fair skin, and having a lot of moles or freckles.

Signs of melanoma include atypical moles, sores, lumps, or new growths on the skin. Early detection of melanoma is a key component of successful treatment, which makes regular self-skin exams very important. When examining the skin it’s helpful to be aware of the ABCD signs of melanoma. This includes moles or suspicious spots that: are asymmetrical; have irregular borders; have changes in coloring; and, have a diameter larger than a pencil eraser.

Prevention of melanoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, includes: seeking shade while outdoors (particularly between 10am and 4pm), covering up exposed skin, frequent application of broad spectrum sunscreen whenever you are outdoors (whether it is sunny or not), avoiding tanning beds, avoiding sunburn, and seeing your dermatologist regularly (especially if you notice any abnormal spots on your skin).

The Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center is currently seeking patients to enroll in studies investigating the use of new therapies and drugs in the treatment of melanoma. For more information or to see if you qualify, call (480) 256-6444 or visit

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