Melanoma is the most serious type of cancer of the skin. In 2009, an estimated 68,720 people were diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and 8,650 died from Melanoma. The percentage of people who develop melanoma in the United States has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Melanoma accounts for 77% of all deaths from skin cancer.
Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, it is also the deadliest. If it is not caught early, it rapidly spreads to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and becomes very difficult to control. The incidence of melanoma has increased at a rate of 4% a year, on average since 1981. Melanoma also occurs at a younger age than other forms of skin cancer. It is not uncommon for it to occur in the mid to late teen years. Melanoma is now one of the most common cancers among young adults ages 15-29.
Studies conducted at the Harvard Medical School indicate that melanoma may be related to intermittent blistering sunburns, particularly if the sunburn occurs before the age of 20. In a case-controlled study at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Lew, 1983), a two-fold increased risk was seen in individuals having had one or more blistering sunburns in adolescence. Dr, Arthur Sober of Harvard Medical School and other experts believe that a serious burn may alter the genetic material of the pigment cells in the skin of a growing child, leading to the formation of unstable moles that have the potential to become malignant (Sober, 1987).