Tumor progression in the human melanocyte system can be delineated into 6 sequential stages. The first three steps represent nonmalignant melanocyte lesions from focal proliferations of structurally normal melanocytes to lesions with architectural and cytologic atypia. Primary melanoma may be divided into radial growth phase without competence for metastasis and vertical growth phase with metastatic competence. Melanocytes isolated from normal skin, nonmalignant pigmented lesions, and melanomas and maintained in culture have properties that are characteristic for each stage of tumor progression. Cytogenetic studies revealed nonrandom chromosomal abnormalities of advanced melanomas involving chromosomes 1, 6, and 7. Recent progress in tissue culture techniques has allowed studies of growth regulation of normal and malignant cells. Six growth factor receptor-growth factor systems seem to be of biologic significance in the melanocyte system: EGF, NGF, FGF, PDGF, insulin, and beta-TGF. Monoclonal antibodies have characterized a large number of antigens on melanocytes of the various stages of tumor progression, making melanoma one of the most widely studied human tumor systems.