What are Melanocytes?
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer as, by the time it is usually detected, it has often already spread through other areas of the body and is no longer localised to the skin. The skin has two main layers, the upper layer called the epidermis and the inner layer called the dermis. In the epidermis are the cells called melanocytes that are responsible for production of melanin, the skin’s source of pigment.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where the dysfunction or destruction of melanocytes leaves the skin without colour but other problems can also occur with these pigment-producing cells.
Are Moles Cancerous?
Melanocytes sometimes congregate and form moles (nevi), a common skin feature but usually harmless and not cancerous. Moles can, however, be wrongly identified and any newly observed moles or changes in the size, texture, colour, or shape of moles warrants further investigation.
These dysplastic nevi are a risk factor for melanoma as are multiple moles on a person (usually more than fifty). Despite stories about the dangers of cutting a mole there is no clear evidence that the risk of skin cancer is increased when a mole is cut, although unexplained bleeding of a mole definitely requires urgent medical evaluation.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three types of skin cancer involving different types of skin cells and with varying prognoses. Squamous cell skin cancer involves the thin flat cells found at the surface of the skin and is one of the most common forms of skin cancer but often treatable.
Basal cell skin cancer is found in the cells lying beneath the squamous cells and, as such, a little deeper into the body and with a slightly higher degree of risk of going unnoticed for longer. Melanoma is both less common and more deadly than the other types of skin cancer and occurs in the melanocytes some of which are found in seemingly unlikely places such as the eyes, vagina, mouth, and under the fingernails.
Read more about malignant melanoma – causes, diagnosis, and skin cancer treatment.