Melanoma is a malignant tumor that originates from melanocytes, the cells responsible for the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, hair and eyes. It is mainly localized on the skin, but more rarely it can appear on the mucous membranes and in exceptional cases even on internal organs such as the central nervous system.
One of the first signs of melanoma can be a change in an existing mole, such as a change in its shape, color or size. In some cases, melanoma can appear as a new mole that changes progressively and rapidly.
Melanoma can sound to people of any age, but it’s especially common among young adults with fair skin, light eyes, and blonde or red hair. While the exact cause isn’t fully understood, exposure to ultraviolet light, both solar and artificial, is known to increase the risk of developing melanoma. However, the reasons for the appearance of melanoma in non-photoexposed areas, such as the plantar regions or the scalp, still remain unclear.
From a molecular point of view, melanoma is the subject of intense study. Mutations of the BRAF (V-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1) gene, reported for the first time in 2002, represent the most frequent mutation in cutaneous melanoma. Most cases have a mutation resulting in a substitution of valine for glutamic acid at position 600 (BRAF V600E), less frequently the mutation affects lysine and arginine residues (V600K/R). Recently, new drugs have been approved that target these mutations, such as vemurafenib.
Approximately 50,000 people in the United States develop melanoma each year. Early diagnosis is essential, as it allows the identification of superficial melanomas which, if removed over time, can allow a normal interruption of life. For this reason, it is important to have your moles checked regularly by an experienced dermatologist through dermatoscopy, in order to identify those at risk and remove them surgically. Reducing your exposure to UV radiation can also help reduce your risk of developing melanoma.