Melanoma and Cutaneous Malignancies Program

At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, our clinicians and researchers are leading the way in the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma and pigmented lesions.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that forms from melanocytes. A melanocyte is a normal cell found in the skin that produces melanin. Melanin is a black or dark brown pigment that is seen in the skin, hair, and parts of the eye.


Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Other more common, but usually less serious, types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Of the many different types of melanoma, most are seen in the skin (this also includes nail beds, soles of the feet, and scalp), but melanoma can also occur in the eye, or on mucosal surfaces which include the anal canal, rectum, and vagina.

Pigmented Lesions

Pigmented Lesions are skin spots that are brown or black. They are usually moles. Pigmented lesions may change in size, color or border shape. They may itch or sting. Such changes could be warning signs that melanoma may be developing.

Careful monitoring of moles and quick action when they change in a suspicious way are among the steps you and your doctor can take to prevent melanoma and its consequences.

Advanced Treatment Approaches for Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma or pigmented lesions, you will be cared for by the team from our Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions Program.

Our Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions Program offers:

  • Nationally recognized experts
  • Multidisciplinary evaluation
  • Advanced diagnostic testing, treatments and technologies
  • Innovative clinical trials
  • The backing of a major research program with immediate translation to patient care
  • A strong focus on education and monitoring so that melanoma can be prevented or caught early
  • Emphasis on the family, since melanoma risk can be high among family members

The Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions Research Program

Our Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions Research Program is one of the nation's best and is dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

Research highlights include:

  • Our melanoma program has been recognized by the NCI as "outstanding", the highest rating possible for a cancer research program. An "outstanding" rating signifies excellence in overall program quality, representation of relevant scientific disciplines, translation of new findings to the clinical setting, conduct of clinical trials, interaction of researchers, and caliber of program members and leadership.
  • We continuously seek ways to not only decrease the suffering caused by melanoma, but to cure it. We are developing and testing prevention, detection and treatment strategies including:
    • Understanding who is at risk for melanoma including genetic risk factors.
    • Determining your risk for melanoma occurrence and therefore appropriate treatment.
    • Finding newer and better ways to predict outcomes by studying current melanoma staging systems and their ability to predict outcomes.
    • Studying ways to determine predictors of positive sentinel lymph node in patients with thin melanomas.
    • Clinical trials collaboration with other centers to bring targeted therapies to large national Phase III status.
  • We are carrying out a number of clinical trials of new treatments for melanoma, and in particular for advanced melanoma. Our trials are based on research findings from our lab and clinical investigators.

Our Team Approach

Our multidisciplinary team includes specialists in dermatology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, plastic surgery, head and neck surgery, psychosocial oncology, pathology, dermatopathology and epidemiology.

Other members of the team include advanced practitioner nurses as well as a full-time medical photographer, who brings skill and sensitivity to photographing a patient's skin. Photographs are often an important way to monitor changes in mole patterns over time.

You may only see one or more of your medical team during a particular visit, but there will be the appropriate level of discussion among the different specialties throughout your care. Members of your team will be selected based on your needs and will work with your personal physician, as requested.

Your team will also include:

  • Patient support specialists: Our patient support specialists are experts in navigating complex health care situations. They serve as a consistent point of contact and a reliable source for support and direction for you and your family.
  • Cancer counselors: Our cancer counselors work exclusively with you and your family. They are available to provide individual, couples or family counseling. Our team includes a psychologist and psychiatrist who specializes in the issues that individuals with cancer face. Our cancer psychiatrist is available for counseling, prescribing medications and consulting with your team of Penn cancer specialists.
  • Registered dietitians: Our registered dietitians are available to provide nutritional counseling for individuals being treated for cancer at the Cancer Center. Our dietitians specialize in cancer nutrition and provide information based on sound nutritional therapies.