Malignant melanoma is an aggressive, therapy-resistant malignancy of melanocytes. The incidence of melanoma has been steadily increasing worldwide, resulting in an increasing public health problem. Exposure to solar UV radiation, fair skin, dysplastic nevi syndrome, and a family history of melanoma are major risk factors for melanoma development. The interactions between genetic and environmental risk factors that promote melanoma-genesis are currently the subject of ongoing research. Avoidance of UV radiation and surveillance of high-risk patients have the potential to reduce the population burden of melanoma. Biopsies of the primary tumor and sampling of draining lymph nodes are required for optimal diagnosis and staging. Several clinically relevant pathologic subtypes have been identified and need to be recognized. Therapy for early disease is predominantly surgical, with a minor benefit noted with the use of adjuvant therapy. Management of systemic melanoma is a challenge because of a paucity of active treatment modalities. In the first part of this 2-part review, we discuss epidemiology, risk factors, screening, prevention, and diagnosis of malignant melanoma. Part 2 (which will appear in the April 2007 issue) will review melanoma staging, prognosis, and treatment.
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