Melanoma is a very serious form of skin cancer that may develop in an existing mark on the skin such as a mole, although melanomas usually develop in clean, unmarked skin. Patients who notice new growths on their skin, changes to existing growths or sores that do not heal are encouraged to speak with a physician immediately.

Melanoma and Melanocytes

Melanoma starts in the melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for producing pigment. As the cells become abnormal and aggressively grow, they may begin to attack the body's tissue. Growths are commonly found on the skin, although in some cases, melanoma may appear under the fingernails or toe nails, on the bottom of the feet, on the palms of the hands or on the mucus membranes in the mouth, vagina or rectum.

Melanoma and the Sun

Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays may cause melanoma in many cases. Individuals who experience a second-degree sunburn, or even a first-degree sunburn, may be at risk of melanoma. Sunburns experienced at any point in a person's life may put them at risk of melanoma. Even occasional exposure to intense sunlight may put an individual at risk of melanoma.

Physical Characteristics

Individuals with light skin that does not tan may be at greater risk of melanoma. Patients with blue or green eyes and red or blonde hair may also be at greater risk. Patients who have many moles on their body, especially large moles since birth and abnormal moles, may also be at greater risk. Those with a family history of melanoma or who experience certain gene changes may also be at greater risk and should take the proper precautions to prevent sun exposure. Xeroderma pigmentosum is a skin conditions that causes the sun to be more sensitive to sunlight. Patients with this condition may also be at greater risk of melanoma. Individuals who are at greater risk of melanoma are encouraged to take the proper precautions to reduce their risk and should avoid excessive sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen and proper clothing is important in preventing sun damage. For more information about the causes of melanoma, consult a skincare professional.