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Scientists Makes Strides Against Melanoma

Posted: July 23, 2007

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Skin cancers in general are extremely survivable. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 1 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed in 2007, claiming fewer than 2,000 lives.

Melanoma is another matter. It's rarer than basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, with about 59,900 new cases expected to strike Americans this year. But it will kill an estimated 8,110 people, according to the cancer institute.

Melanoma remains frustratingly hard to prevent and cure, Weinstock said.

It begins in skin cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Skin exposed to the sun causes melanocytes to produce more pigment, creating a sun tan. Sometimes, clusters of melanocytes and surrounding tissues form moles on the skin.

Melanoma occurs when those pigment cells become malignant. The first sign of trouble often is a change in the size, shape, color or feel of an existing mole, with most melanomas displaying a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also can appear as a new mole that is black or looks abnormal or ugly, according to the cancer institute.