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JAMA Patient Page
June 8, 2011

Melanoma

JAMA. 2011;305(22):2368. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.658

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Regardless of where on the body it occurs, melanoma originates from normal pigment cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that is responsible for giving skin its color and that protects the body from damage caused by the sun's ultraviolet rays. Like other cells in the body, melanocytes can transform into cancerous cells, and when this transformation occurs the result is development of melanoma. An article on treatment of melanoma appears in the June 8, 2011, issue of JAMA.

The main risk factor for melanoma is UV (ultraviolet) light, which can come from sunlight or a tanning bed. Fair-skinned people (especially those with red or blond hair and those who tend to sunburn frequently), people with many abnormally shaped moles (dysplastic nevi), and people with family members who have had melanoma are at higher risk of developing melanoma.

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