WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is an aggressive malignant tumour that arises from melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. These tumours can occur at any anatomical location, including the eye, on mucosal surfaces of the head and neck, and along the gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. However, roughly 90% involve the skin. Melanomas involving the skin are collectively termed cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM). Worldwide, each year, it is estimated that between 130,000 and 200,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and that roughly 37,000 to 48,000 people die of this disease. Although melanoma accounts for less than 5% of malignant skin tumors, it is responsible for between 60% and 80% of skin cancer-related deaths. Melanoma is the third most common malignancy in young Canadian adults between the ages of 20 and 44, both in women and in men. Moreover, surveillance of cancer among young adults over the decade between 1987 and 1996 revealed that, although the overall incidence of cancer decreased in young adults over that decade, melanoma incidence increased. The outlook is not bright in terms of numbers among the elderly either, given that, even in populations in which the incidence of CMM seems to be decreasing or stabilizing, like Australia, certain parts of Europe, and the United States, it continues to increase in incidence among the elderly. This increased incidence may translate into dramatic increases in absolute numbers of cases, as baby boomers progress into their senior years, and both men and women live longer.