Let's Talk About Melanoma

Is something going on with your skin? We've got the doctor-vetted details to help you determine if you could have this serious skin cancer. (Spoiler alert: Catch it early, and it's almost always treatable.)

by Krista Bennett DeMaio Health Writer

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or worry you could have melanoma, you’re probably nervous, confused, and likely scared. We get it: Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can be life-threatening. But knowing everything you can means you can get help ASAP. On this page alone, you’ll not only discover the realities and challenges of the condition, but also the best treatments, helpful lifestyle changes, where to find your melanoma community, and all the critical information to help you not just manage—but hopefully thrive. We’re sure you’ve got a lot of questions...and we’re here to answer them.

Melanoma

Our Pro Panel

We tapped into some to the top experts on melanoma to bring you the most up-to-date info on this skin cancer.

Steven Q. Wang, M.D.
Steven Q. Wang, M.D.

Steven Q. Wang, M.D.

Mohs Surgeon and Director of Dermatological Surgery and Dermatology

Memorial Sloan Kettering

Basking Ridge, NJ

Darrell Rigel, M.D.
Darrell Rigel, M.D.

Darrell Rigel, M.D.

Clinical Professor of Dermatology

NYU Langone Medical Center

New York, NY

Ellen Marmur, M.D.
Ellen Marmur, M.D.

Ellen Marmur, M.D.

Associate Clinical Professor in the Departments of Dermatology and Genomics and Genetic Science

The Mount Sinai Medical School

New York, NY

Melanoma
Frequently Asked Questions
What does melanoma look like?

One of these things is not like the others. Typically, a melanoma may be darker, more oddly shaped, larger, or scalier than your surrounding moles. But it can also be red, pink, clear, or skin-colored. Your doctors want you to know the ABCDEs of moles: asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.

Does melanoma itch?

It can. Doctors want you to pay close attention to any changes in your existing moles, including itching. So, if you’re suddenly scratching a spot, it’s time to make an appointment with your dermatologist.

I have dark skin. Does that mean I’m not at risk for melanoma?

This is a common myth. While a fair-skinned person is 20 times more likely to get melanoma than someone with dark skin, it’s not impossible. And studies show that when melanomas do occur in Latino and African American skin, they tend to be detected at later stages, which can mean less chance of survival. You might remember that singer Bob Marley died from melanoma under his toenail.

What is the difference between seborrheic keratosis and melanoma?

Seborrheic keratosis is a benign skin growth that tends to show up with age. The growth can be black or brown, so as you might imagine, it’s often confused with melanoma. But unlike the deadly skin cancer, a seborrheic keratosis has a uniform, round or oval shape, can be light tan in color, and usually remains the same size. If you have a new spot that fits this bill, don’t panic. But any new growth should always be examined by a physician.

What Is Melanoma, Anyway?

Melanoma is one of three main types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the other two), and it’s potentially the deadliest.

Melanoma is cancer of your pigment-making cells, called melanocytes. These are cells that give skin its tan or brown color, a.k.a. melanin—and you have a ton of them. Every tenth cell in the deepest layer of your skin, the basal layer, is a melanocyte. When melanocytes turn cancerous, it shows up on your skin’s surface as an atypical mole—typically brown or black, but sometimes it’s a red or clear bump. A melanoma mole is often referred to as the ugly duckling—it doesn’t fit in with the others. Maybe it’s much larger or has uneven borders. Or it looks as if it’s been smeared or smudged. Most of the time, it’s a mole you’ve never noticed before. Less than 30 percent of melanomas occur in existing moles.

Melanomas are more common in fair-skinned people who sunburn easily, but they can occur with any kind of skin tone. Dark skin, which has more melanin, is thought to be more protected against sun damage—plus, some melanomas occur without UV exposure. Melanomas in African Americans tend to be diagnosed at later stages, which can mean their chances of survival are lower.

Melanomas do typically pop up in sun-exposed areas—legs, arms, face, back, and shoulders. But they can also appear in sneaky spots like under your fingernails or toenails, on your scalp, and inside your eyes. Experts don’t believe that UV light is the only cause, however, because melanomas can even appear in areas that have never seen the light of day, such as inside your mouth and on or near your genitals. There are even melanocytes inside some of your internal organs, so while it is rare, you can get melanoma in the bladder or intestines.

Melanoma, which is always malignant, is far less common than the other types of skin cancers, yet it’s more dangerous. That’s because it tends to spread faster to other organs. But while melanoma can be the scariest of all skin cancers, it’s important to note that—big sigh of relief—it’s almost always curable when caught early. In its earliest stages, the cancer is only present on the top layer of skin and can be removed surgically without any additional treatment. The five-year survival rate for an early-detection melanoma is about 98 percent. Experts say that while the mortality rate is higher with more advanced stages, new breakthrough treatments are extending life for those even with stage IV melanoma (stay tuned for more on that).

Is There Just One Kind of Melanoma?

No, there are several types—or, scientifically speaking, pathological classifications—of melanoma. Here are the four main ones:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma: It’s the most common type of melanoma—70 percent of all cases. It starts on skin’s surface, growing horizontally first. But it can spread deeper into the other layers of skin.

  • Nodular melanoma: This typically looks like a round black bump, pimple, or raised mole. It’s considered the most aggressive type of melanoma because it tends to spread quickly. Only 15 percent of melanomas are nodular, but it causes nearly half of all melanoma deaths.

  • Lentigo maligna: It’s only on the top layer of skin, and tends to appear on the face, neck, and scalp. A sub-type of this is lentigo maligna melanoma, in which the melanoma is no longer confined to just the skin; it has spread into the deeper layers.

  • Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM): This type is found on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and underneath nails (the type of cancer Bob Marley died from).

Another skin-related form of melanoma that accounts for less than 4% of primary cutaneous melanomas is desmoplastic melanoma_. It's typically found on chronically sun-damaged skin of older people, and twice as many men as women are diagnosed with it.

Then there are other, rarer forms of melanoma that do not start in the skin and are harder to spot. These are considered amelanotic, and don't resemble typical melanoma—there is no dark pigment. An amelanotic melanoma can be a pink, red, or flesh-colored patch or a raised mole. Amelanotic melanomas include:

  • Mucosal melanoma: This occurs on your mucous membranes, which can mean inside your mouth, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, even vagina. It’s hard to detect since you can’t see these areas, but symptoms can include pain, bleeding, and discoloration (in the case of mouth and vagina). Only one out of every 100 cases of all melanomas are mucosal.

  • Intraocular melanoma: Also known as uveal melanoma, which is cancer inside your eye. Ocular melanoma shows up as a mole inside your eye that can only be seen by an ophthalmologist, making it especially tricky to detect. There are sub-types including choroidal melanoma, which is cancer in the membrane between the whites of your eye and the retina. Choroidal melanoma is the second most common type of melanoma in the body after melanomas of the skin.

  • Subungual melanoma: This is a nail melanoma. Unlike acral lentingo melanoma, which can grow on skin around the nail, too, this one only affects the nail matrix.

  • Vulvar melanoma: A pigmented spot on your vulva could be melanoma. Vulvar melanoma—different than mucosal melanoma because it arises on the skin rather than the mucosal lining of your vagina—accounts for less than 1% of cancers in women.

What Causes Melanoma in The First Place?

Unless you’ve been hiding under that proverbial rock, you’re likely aware that the biggest culprit in the development of melanoma is the sun. But even under that rock, melanoma can crop up (meaning: in places that never see daylight). Here are the details on the main causes of melanoma.

UV Light

When you soak in the sun or hit a tanning bed, your melanocytes—in an ironic turn—pump out pigment as a protective measure. Your skin gets tan or freckled in order to absorb the UV rays and protect cells’ DNA from damage. But it’s not a perfect system and often there’s damage anyway. If it’s a melanocyte that’s damaged, the compromised cell goes rogue—dividing, duplicating, and growing out of control into a malignant tumor, morphing into melanoma. (What about other types of skin cancer? If a basal cell is damaged, it can turn into basal cell carcinoma. And if squamous cells are affected, then you may get squamous cell carcinoma.) If it’s not stopped quickly, it can spread into other areas of your body.

Genetics

In an effort to understand why melanoma moves so quickly, researchers at the National Institute of Health are looking at genetics. A study in Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research has identified 40 new genes that are affected by a main protein that helps cancer grow, and 10 genes that affect how fast it will spread to other areas.

Of course, doctors have long known that genetics play a role in the disease. These are classic factors that up your risk:

  • Fair skin. It’s more susceptible to the sun’s rays and prone to getting burned. That said, melanoma can happen in darker skin types, too.

  • Lots of moles. If you have 50 or more, you have a stronger chance of developing the disease.

  • Past skin cancer. Research has shown that if you have had other types of skin cancers, such as squamous cell or basal carcinoma, you’re at greater risk for melanoma.

  • Family history. One in 10 melanoma patients have a family member who has had the disease.

Researchers have also identified some specific mutations in tumor-suppressing genes that are associated with an increased risk of melanoma.

  • CDKN2A: People who carry the mutation on this gene are at greater risk for melanoma and pancreatic cancer.

  • BAP1: This gene mutation ups your chances of melanoma of the skin and eyes, mesothelioma (a cancer of the tissue lining the lungs, stomach, and heart, among other organs), and kidney cancer.

  • MC1R: It’s the same mutation of a gene that causes red hair. A study published in Jama Dermatology suggested that this gene variant doubles one’s risk of melanoma.

Knowing that you have one of these isn’t a guarantee that you will get melanoma, but it can make you more vigilant about sun protection and skin checks. A study published in Genetics in Medicine showed that those who knew they carried the CDKN2A mutation reduced their daily UV ray intake just one month after testing. And long-term: One year later, the participants had lighter skin pigment, which means they were staying out of the sun.

Other Factors

Your gender seems to play a role in contracting—and surviving—melanoma. By age 50, men are more likely to get melanoma than women. And males ages 15 to 39 are 55% more likely to die from melanoma than women of the same age. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why but think that men are less likely than women to wear sunscreen and are probably diagnosed at later stages. Another factor associated with an increased risk of melanoma: having a weakened immune system and other diseases such as diabetes.

Do I Have the Symptoms of Melanoma?

The first sign of melanoma is usually a new mole, or an existing mole that’s changed in some way. Typically, you’re on the lookout for an unusual-looking dark brown or even black mole, but as we mentioned above, some melanomas may not have any dark pigment at all. Experts urge patients to use the ABCDE method when examining their spots:

  • A: Does it have asymmetry?

  • B: Are the borders irregular, that is, are the edges perfectly smooth or more jagged?

  • C: Is the color dark, red, or uneven? Do your nails have any dark spots?

  • D: Is the diameter larger than that of a pencil eraser?

  • E: Is the mole evolving—changing in shape, size, or texture?

Also concerning are moles that itch, bleed, and turn scaly. In the case of ocular melanoma in the eyes, you may start to experience blurry vision, floaters (specks of lights in your eyes), loss of peripheral vision, or you may see a brown spot on your iris. On nails, you may see a dark streak or band under your nail plate.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Melanoma?

The first step is a head-to-toe skin exam by a physician, ideally a dermatologist who is trained to spot skin cancer. Your doctor will likely use a dermatoscope, which is a combo of a magnifying glass and flashlight. A skin cancer check isn’t limited to your primary care doctor and dermatologist. Your dentist, gynecologist, and an ophthalmologist should all be on the lookout for signs of melanoma during routine exams because it can show up in the sneakiest of areas.

If you found the suspicious mole, your dermatologist will need to know all about it: when the mole first appeared and any changes you’ve noticed, as well as your personal and family medical history.

Pre-Biopsy

New, non-invasive technology can save you some stitches and eliminate the need for unnecessary biopsies. Some cancer centers now use a low-level laser known as reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM), which penetrates below skin’s surface to take images and videos, which are then examined to determine if the cells appear suspicious. Only then will a biopsy be performed.

Another new tool is 3D total body photography, a booth equipped with close to 50 digital cameras that take head-to-toe images of your body. The technology then creates a 3D model of your body showing all lesions. It’s also an easy way for doctors to track existing moles over time.

Biopsy

The next step is typically a biopsy that can be done in your dermatologist’s office under local anesthesia, and there are a few different options. Your doctor will choose one based on the size and location of your mole.

  • Punch biopsy. Like a hole punch for your skin, this tool has a circular blade to literally stamp out a piece of your skin.

  • Shave biopsy. Your doctor will use a razor-like tool to literally shave away the mole.

  • Excisional biopsy. Here, the mole, along with a small amount of surrounding normal skin, is removed.

  • Incisional biopsy. Only the most irregular part of the mole is removed.

The biopsy is then sent to a pathologist to be examined under a microscope to determine if the mole is malignant (cancerous) melanoma or a benign mole. It can also be atypical, which means it’s a normal mole, but has irregular characteristics under the microscope.

Depending on the level of irregularity, your dermatologist may opt to remove an atypical mole because atypical moles can increase your risk of melanoma. If malignant, the pathologist will also determine its thickness, which is an indication of how far into the skin’s layers it has spread. If the skin surrounding the mole (known as the margins) comes back positive for cancer cells, your dermatologist may need to do a wider incision to see if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes. If so, your physician will likely order imaging—CT scan, PET scan, or MRI—to check if the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other organs in the body.

The most common areas beyond skin and lymph nodes are liver, lung, brain, and bones. At this point, it’s considered stage III (melanoma that has spread to nearby lymph nodes) or stage IV (melanoma that has spread to other organs), and you will be referred to a cancer specialist, such as an oncologist, to determine your treatment plan. Removing the primary tumor may still be an option, but it may not be possible to remove all the cancer. In that cause, your doctor will start you on a systemic drug treatment.

Melanoma Stages

If your mole or skin lesion comes back positive for melanoma, your doctors will figure out its stage. Staging is typically determined by the thickness in millimeters (mm) of the melanoma tumor and whether or not it has spread, or metastasized, into other parts of the body. Here’s staging in its simplest form:

  • Stage 0: This is also known as melanoma in situ (the Latin term for “in place”). In this earliest stage, cancer is contained to the outer layer of skin. It's the most treatable type, can be easily removed, and typically requires no additional treatment.

  • Stage I: The tumor depth is less than 1mm in depth and it has not spread to any nearby lymph nodes. It may or may not be ulcerated, which means the skin on top of the melanoma is like an open wound. A stage 1 tumor isn’t contained to just the top layer—it’s spread into the next layer of skin. A thin, non-ulcerated tumor of 0.8mm or less is categorized as the sub-stage IA.

  • Stage II: The tumor is deeper than 1 mm that may or may not be ulcerated but hasn’t spread to lymph nodes. Melanomas that are thicker than 4.0mm have a higher risk of spreading.

  • Stage III: At this point, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Or, it has spread more than 2 centimeters away from the primary melanoma tumor but has not yet reach the lymph node. These are also known as satellite tumors.

  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread into other organs of the body, most commonly the lungs, brain, GI tract, or bone. Your doctor may also test your levels of an enzyme called lactate dehyrogense levels (LDH). Higher levels typically mean more damage has been done by the cancer.

What Is the Treatment for Melanoma?

Which treatment you’ll be given depends on the stage, location, and whether your melanoma has spread.

Surgery

With early stage melanoma—stages 0-II—that appears on skin or mucosa (say, inside your mouth), the treatment is typically surgery. A surgeon will remove the malignancy, along with some surrounding skin to make sure there are no cancer cells left to spread. Your incision will be sutured closed. Stitches are removed after one week for face and two weeks for body. For stage II, your oncologist may suggest radiation or a drug treatment (more on that below) to prevent cancer cells from coming back.

For melanomas under your nails, your doctor may need to surgically remove the entire nail to get to the growth. For early stage, very small ocular melanoma tumors, doctors often take a wait-and-see-approach, waiting for symptoms and signs of growth. If a tumor is small and not causing any symptoms, doctors are less likely to operate on an otherwise healthy eye. For larger eye tumors, your eye care specialist may remove it with surgery, which, in rare cases, can include being fitted for an artificial eye if the tumor is large, taking up more than half the eye orbit, and has affected the function of the eye. Removing the entire eye is typically the last resort.

When your melanoma has spread into nearby lymph nodes (stage III), your surgeon may opt to remove the affected nodes. There has been some debate about this among doctors, however. Most research suggests that, while surgery may lessen your chances for recurrence, removing all the nearby nodes doesn't necessarily increase your chances of survival and it can cause post-surgical complications such as swelling in the area where the nodes once were. While some doctors still choose to remove the lymph nodes, many will opt for a drug treatment that attacks the cancer cells.

These drugs are the same options used for stage IV melanoma, melanoma that has spread to organs beyond the lymph nodes. Here are the main options for metastatic melanoma:

Targeted Therapy

Once your cancer has spread (stages III and IV), the DNA tumor is tested for gene mutations. If your tumor tests positive for a gene mutation, there are targeted treatments to home in on it. Targeted therapy is an option for metastatic melanoma, zeroing in on the specific mutations in the DNA of a tumor. The most well-known mutation for melanoma is BRAF, with up to half of all advanced melanomas carrying this gene. Another common one is MEK. If genetic testing shows your tumor has one of these mutations, your doctor may prescribe a BRAF or MEK inhibitor (or a combination), an oral drug to halt the tumor growth. These include:

  • Tafinlar (dabrafenib)

  • Zelboraf (vemurafenib)

  • Braftovi (encorafenib)

The latest research has centered around combining BRAF and MEK inhibitors—the two together have shrunk melanoma tumors in up to 70 percent of people, according to a review in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology.

Immunotherapy

If a gene mutation isn’t present, then the course of treatment is typically immunology, drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors to boost your body’s own immune system to fight off the spread of cancer. Melanomas turn off “checkpoints,” proteins on immune cells to prevent the immune system from attacking the tumor. These drugs target the checkpoints so the immune system can do its job properly. The most common immunologic drugs used for melanoma are:

  • Yervoy (ipilimumab)

  • Opdivo (nivolumab)

  • Keytruda (pembrolizumab)

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a combination of the drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab drugs may be more effective than one drug alone. The survival rate for melanoma for three years with combo therapy was 58 percent compared to 52 percent for nivolumab alone, and 34 percent for ipilimumab.

Chemotherapy and Radiation

You may be wondering about chemotherapy. It’s typically not the go-to treatment here, because it hasn’t proved very effective for metastatic melanoma. As for radiation, aside from post-surgical use, it may be added for difficult-to-treat brain metastases, areas where the patient is experiencing pain, or as an alternative to surgery for large eye tumors (which can also be treated with lasers).

Does Melanoma Have Serious Complications?

Beyond post-op swelling, discomfort, and eventually scarring (you’ll likely end up with some amount of scarring) at the surgical site, those with early stage melanoma shouldn’t experience many side effects. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, too.

But the more major complications occur when the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body. Depending on where the melanoma has spread, you may experience swollen, tender lymph nodes, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, bone pain, weakness, headaches, and fatigue. The survival rate for melanoma that has metastasized to other organs in the body drops to 23 percent.

There are also side effects from the cancer-fighting treatments ranging from fatigue to nausea. Immunotherapy drugs can rev up your immune system a little too much, causing inflammation of the pancreas, liver, or bowel; diabetes; neurological issues; and even fatal side effects including heart attack, which can be offset with steroids to suppress a too-active immune system.

What's Life Like for People Living with Melanoma?

Whether you’re going through treatment or are considered cured of your melanoma, there are a few precautions and tweaks to make in your everyday life.

Protective Measures

Once you have one melanoma, you’re more likely to get it again. So, sun protection should become a top priority. That means:

  • Wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 30 (even on those cloudy days)

  • Avoiding heavy sun exposure during peak hours (10 am to 4 pm)

  • Wearing sun-protective clothing, including clothes with UPF (fabric that gives skin ultraviolet protection factor), hats and dark sunglasses, when you’re outside

  • Monthly skin checks, with a follow-up with a dermatologist every three to six months

Physical Issues

For metastatic melanoma, you may be contending with unpleasant drug side effects. Immunotherapy and targeted treatments typically don’t leave you with severe side effects (like chemotherapy can for other cancers), but still, they can make you feel crummy. The most common are flu-like symptoms—fever, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue. They should subside with treatment. (How long treatment? It varies by patient, but for immunotherapy, you'll likely be on it at least two years—if there is an excellent response, your doctor many consider stopping sooner. If targeted therapy is effective and well-tolerated, you'll likely be on it indefinitely.)

Emotional Health

Whether you’re going through treatment or are cancer-free, melanoma can leave you with some serious anxiety about surviving or your cancer returning. Research in the Journal of Skin Cancer suggests that the biggest long-term concern after melanoma is psychological in nature. For some, the anxiety lingered for years after their diagnosis. Stress management, physical activity, and getting emotional support from a trained therapist can help you tackle these feelings.

Where Can I Find My Melanoma Community?

This year, 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed, so you’re far from alone. Finding someone in the same boat, whether that means digesting a scary diagnosis, prepping for surgery, or dealing with yucky side effects, can make it all a little less overwhelming. Here’s how to find your people.

Top Melanoma Instagrammers/Bloggers

Follow because: Her journey with stage 4 melanoma treks on. While she thought she was past those days, signs of her cancer returned and she’s back to hospital stays, surgeries, and additional treatments. She knows this road, so she navigates it wisely, and shares all of those tidbits with her followers. Somewhere along her journey she also created the nonprofit Call Time On Melanoma to squash all melanoma myths, share skincare tips, and inspire you to take sun care seriously.

Follow because: Her smile, despite stage 4 melanoma, is ever-present and completely infectious. Even though her feed looks deceivingly happy-go-lucky, the reality is that she’s fighting cancer every day—trying new treatments, going for more tests, and mourning the person she was before cancer. But she’ll remind you that just because life is hard, it doesn’t mean you can’t smile.

Follow because: She’s a one-eyed wonder. No kidding, because of stage 4 ocular melanoma she has one eye, and she’s not shy about it, either (nor should she be). When she was diagnosed at age 21 (she’s now 26), Jess was forced to give up a lot to fight the battle of a lifetime, but she came out a survivor with a, in her words, “powerfully positive, ridiculously resilient” attitude. One she now uses to travel around and speak, while rocking an awesome eye patch (they’re all custom-designed and bedazzled!).

Follow because: She beat the odds and convinces you that you can, too. After being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma in 2009, she was told she had less than a 5% chance of living until 2014. Well, here she is, five years cancer free, and advocating for those who are still in the good fight against cancer while also encouraging others to find their ‘new life’ without cancer.

Top Melanoma-Related Podcasts

  • Steven Farrell Podcast. Hosted by the speaker and mind coach himself, Steven Farrell aims to inspire gratitude, mindfulness, and self-belief — all while battling melanoma. Diagnosed in 2017, Steven decided to live for now, and not put things off until tomorrow. Aside from talking to guests from around the world about how to dust yourself off and keep going through a tough journey, he also talks about how to kickstart small things that will make you happy today — like starting a podcast.

  • Dana-Farber Cancer Conversations Podcast. While the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, located in Boston, MA, covers all walks of cancers, this podcast speaks directly to those living with melanoma and highlights the latest treatments and techniques. All episodes are hosted by Dana-Farber physicians, clinicians, and researchers, and even though every episode isn’t directly about melanoma, they can certainly apply to life with any cancer — including integrative therapies (read: yoga), a look at how far cancer treatments have come, myth-busters, and more.

Top Melanoma Orgs, Nonprofits, and Support Groups

  • Melanoma Research Foundation. Their campaigns are edgy and inviting (#GETNAKED is one of their biggest on social media) — helping to raise awareness in a modern-day world. Yeah, they have all the science and research on their site, too, but they present the information in a way that’s digestible and light on medical-jargon. Aside from bringing patients together via support groups, they also merge patient advocates with politicians to help make some noise on The Hill, and ultimately change the future of melanoma (as in, a melanoma-free future).

  • Aim At Melanoma Foundation (AIM). Okay, you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, you’ve met with the docs, you’ve reviewed your treatments options, and now… you’re lost. Aim at Melanoma Foundation is there for you, literally, at all hours (it can take up to 48 hours to get a response) with online physician’s assistant who will answer your questions and guide you down this windy path (with bumps and roadblocks, no doubt). They’re the most influential global voice for melanoma because they are there for you, online, in person, through support groups, and even along fun runs that invite the whole fam out for support.

  • Polka Dot Mama Foundation. Tracy Callahan, the polka dot mama (nicknamed by her kids when she was diagnosed with melanoma), started with a small blog, which quickly (over four years) turned into — get this — a foundation with the Guinness Book of World Records award for largest skin cancer screening. Nine-hundred and sixty-three screenings in seven hours, to be exact. All of the foundation’s funds go toward melanoma research or free skin screenings, offered in partnership with the American Academy of Dermatology’s SPOTme program, with dates and locations announced on their free screenings page. While Tracy prides herself on this progress, she knows the nonprofit has a ways to go, and invites you to join her by volunteering, working for the nonprofit, or donating to the cause.

  • Melanoma Action Coalition (MAC). Where all the grassroots melanoma orgs go. Think of it like this: You’re personally affected by melanoma (we’re assuming, since you’re here, hi), so you want to start a small local fundraiser, maybe a bull-roast or 5k. Thing is, there’s a lot that goes into starting something like that…and that’s where MAC comes in. They support grassroots efforts of any size by teaching you how to get setup with a venue, market the event, and get the community involved. This nonprofit is led by those who are just trying to do the same as all of the grassroots orgs that come to them — make a difference in the cure of melanoma.

  • Skin Cancer Foundation. You’ve probably seen there seal on sunscreens on store shelves. That’s because this organization has established themselves as an authority on all things skin cancer related, including melanoma, and gives their seal of approval to sun protection products (topical treatments and clothing) that meet their strict criteria. The site itself offers a wealth of info on risk factors, treatments, and the latest research. And if you’re interested in raising awareness (and money), you can volunteer to host a gala, a walk, even a carwash to benefit the cause.

Krista Bennett DeMaio
Meet Our Writer
Krista Bennett DeMaio

Krista Bennett DeMaio has well over a decade of editorial experience. The former magazine-editor-turned-freelance writer regularly covers skincare, health, beauty, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in national publications and websites including Oprah, Women’s Health, Redbook, Shape, Dr. Oz The Good Life, bhg.com, and prevention.com. She lives in Huntington, New York with her husband and three daughters.