Melanoma Review: Background and Treatment

Eva Berrios-Colon, PharmD, MPH, BCPS; Shalonda Williams, PharmD


US Pharmacist 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Melanoma, the fifth most common cancer in the United States, accounts for fewer than 5% of skin cancer cases but is the most serious form of the disease, causing up to 75% of skin cancer–related deaths.[1–3] The incidence of cutaneous melanoma increased tremendously from 1970 to the late 1990s; however, rates have remained relatively stable since 2000.[3,4] Five-year survival rates for melanoma increased from 82% in 1975 to 92% in 2004, but the overall mortality rate remains unchanged.[3] Although melanoma is curable if detected in its early localized form, metastatic melanoma continues to be a therapeutic challenge.[4]

A melanoma is a malignant tumor that arises from melanocytes, dendritic cells that produce melanin, a pigment that protects the body from damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Melanocytes use tyrosine to synthesize melanin. A cluster of melanocytes form nevi (pigmented lesions or moles), and melanoma results when these melanocytes undergo a malignant transformation.[3,4] Melanocytes may be found in various areas of the body; however, they are primarily located in the epidermis, and more than 90% of all melanomas are cutaneous.


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