Lentigo maligna is one type of the earliest stage of a skin cancer called melanoma.
The word ‘melanoma’ comes from the Greek word ‘melas’, meaning black. Melanin is the dark pigment that gives the skin its natural colour and is made in the skin by pigment cells called melanocytes. After our skin is exposed to sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin, and so the skin becomes darker.
Melanocytes may grow together in harmless groups or clusters, which are known as moles. Most people have between 10 and 50 moles and often they are darker than the surrounding skin.
Melanomas can arise in or near to a mole, but can also appear on skin that looks quite normal. They develop when the skin pigment cells (melanocytes) become cancerous and multiply in an uncontrolled way. They can then invade the skin around them and may also spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs.
The most important cause is exposure to too much ultraviolet light in sunlight. It is especially common in white-skinned people who live in or frequently visit sunny countries.