Melanoma is caused when skin cells, or melanocytes, begin to grow abnormally. The single most preventable cause is too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from sunlight and there is also evidence that the use of sunbeds can cause skin cancer.
There are certain people who have a predisposition to skin cancer or are more at risk:
+ People who burn easily in the sun + People with past episodes of sunburn, often with blister formation and often in childhood + People with many moles (more than 50) + People who have first-degree family members who have melanomas + People with a weakened immune system due to diseases (e.g. HIV), or those on drugs that suppress the immune system (e.g. organ transplant patients)
Melanomas may develop as either a new mole or occur as changes in a pre-existing mole. It is the fifth most common form of skin cancer in the UK, with approximately 13,000 cases being reported each year.
More than a quarter of those cases are in people under 50 years old, which is quite young in comparison to other cancers. More than 2000 people in the UK die every year from melanoma.