Melanoma occurs when something goes awry in the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) that give color to your skin.
Normally, skin cells develop in a controlled and orderly way — healthy new cells push older cells toward your skin's surface, where they die and eventually fall off. But when some cells develop DNA damage, new cells may begin to grow out of control and can eventually form a mass of cancerous cells.
Just what damages DNA in skin cells and how this leads to melanoma isn't clear. It's likely that a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic factors, causes melanoma. Still, doctors believe exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and from tanning lamps and beds is the leading cause of melanoma.
UV light doesn't cause all melanomas, especially those that occur in places on your body that don't receive exposure to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of melanoma.
April 22, 2015
- What you need to know about melanoma and other skin cancers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Tafinlar (prescribing information). Research Triangle Park, N.C.: GlaxoSmithKline; 2013. http://www.tafinlar.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2013.
- Yervoy (prescribing information). Princeton, N.J.: Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; 2013. http://www.yervoy.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2013.
- Intraocular (eye) melanoma treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/intraocularmelanoma/patient. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Smith RA, et al. Cancer screening in the United States, 2013: A review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and current issues in cancer screening, and new guidance on cervical cancer screening and lung cancer screening. CA A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013;63:87.
- Skin examinations. SkinCancerNet. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/skin_examinations.html. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Preventive services for adults. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. https://www.icsi.org/guidelines__more/catalog_guidelines_and_more/catalog_guidelines/catalog_prevention__screening_guidelines/preventive_services_for_adults. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Zelboraf (prescribing information). South San Francisco, Calif.: Genentech Inc.; 2013. http://www.zelboraf.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2013.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for skin cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2009;150:188.
- Melanoma. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- Reed KB, et al. Increasing incidence of melanoma among young adults: An epidemiological study in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2012;87:328.
- Golden AK. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 2, 2013.
- Gibson LE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 12, 2013.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.