About Skin Cancer (Melanoma)


Melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer, are cancers of the skin. The body’s largest organ, the skin protects against infection and injury and helps regulate body temperature. The skin also stores water and fat and produces vitamin D.

At UCLA, comprehensive care for skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma, is provided by the Skin Cancer/Melanoma Program, which is administered through the UCLA Division of Dermatology.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin Layers Diagram

The skin is made up of two main layers: the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and the dermis (inner layer of skin). The deeper layer of the epidermis contains melanocytes. Melanoma starts in melanocytes and is the most aggressive type of skin cancer. It can grow deep into the dermis, invading lymph and blood vessels. The initial type of treatment is determined by the size of the tumor as measured in thickness.


Melanoma begins when color-producing cells, called melanocytes, become abnormal and begin to grow uncontrollably, forming a mass of cells creating a tumor. Melanoma can appear in an area no different from surrounding skin, or it can develop from or near a mole. It is found most frequently on the backs of men and women or on the legs of women, but melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including the head and neck. Less frequently, it can arise from areas other than the skin, like the eye or the gut.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

People diagnosed with melanoma may face more extensive treatment than those diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. Treatment of the primary (initial) melanoma usually involves surgery, which often cures early stages of this melanoma. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or immunotherapy may also be part of the treatment for the more advanced melanoma. Researchers are also investigating new approaches to treating advanced melanoma, including targeted therapy, gene therapy and vaccine therapy.