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By Mia Wangsmo Steffenssen MD, Mike Mikkelsen Lorenzen, MD and Pia Sjøgren MD


Melanoma is a cancer of the skin originating from melanocytes, which arise from the neural crest and migrate to the epidermis, uvea, meninges and ectodermal mucosa.


Melanoma derives from the Greek melas, “dark” and oma “tumor”. The earliest known cases of melanomas appeared in the writings of Hippocrates of Cos in the 5th century, B.C. The tumor had many references between 1650-1760 to “fatal black tumors with metastases and black fluid in the body and in the early 1900’s William Handley was the first to describe the lymphatic spread of melanoma. In 1970, Alexander Breslow observed that prognosis of cutaneous melanoma was dependent on size and level of invasion with tumor thickness.

The European incidence of malignant melanoma varies from 3 to 5 per 100000 per year in Mediterranean countries to 12-25 in Nordic countries.