War Against Melanoma
Information on this site was obtained directly from the National Cancer Institute and The Skin Cancer Foundation, two excellent resources for detailed
information about melanoma. For more information, please go to:
National Cancer Institute - http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/melanoma
The Skin Cancer Foundation - http://www.skincancer.org
Disclaimer: The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to be a substitute for
professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should not rely on any information contained on this site as a substitute for medical advice and
always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.
If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not,
the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard
to treat and can be fatal.
Studies have shown that the following are risk factors for the three most common types of skin cancer:
Risks for Any Type of Skin Cancer
* Sunlight: Sunlight is a source of UV radiation. It's the most important risk factor for any type of skin cancer. The sun's rays
cause skin damage that can lead to cancer.
* Severe, blistering sunburns: People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn are at increased risk of skin cancer.
Although people who burn easily are more likely to have had sunburns as a child, sunburns during adulthood also increase the
risk of skin cancer.
* Lifetime sun exposure: The total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime is a risk factor for skin cancer.
* Tanning: Although a tan slightly lowers the risk of sunburn, even people who tan well without sunburning have a higher risk
of skin cancer because of more lifetime sun exposure. Sunlight can be reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The
sun's rays can get through clouds, windshields, windows, and light clothing. In the United States, skin cancer is more common
where the sun is strong. For example, more people in Texas than Minnesota get skin cancer. Also, the sun is stronger at higher
elevations, such as in the mountains. Doctors encourage people to limit their exposure to sunlight. See Prevention for ways to
protect your skin from the sun.
* Sunlamps and tanning booths: Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, can cause skin
damage and skin cancer. Health care providers strongly encourage people, especially young people, to avoid using sunlamps
and tanning booths. The risk of skin cancer is greatly increased by using sunlamps and tanning booths before age 30. *
Personal history: People who have had melanoma have an increased risk of developing other melanomas. Also, people who
have had basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer have an increased risk of developing another skin cancer of any type.
* Family history: Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives (mother, father, sister, brother, or
child) who have had this disease is a risk factor for developing melanoma. Other types of skin cancer also sometimes run in
* Skin that burns easily: Having fair (pale) skin that burns in the sun easily, blue or gray eyes, red or blond hair, or many
freckles increases the risk of skin cancer.
* Certain medical conditions or medicines: Medical conditions or medicines (such as some antibiotics, hormones, or
antidepressants) that make your skin more sensitive to the sun increase the risk of skin cancer. Also, medical conditions or
medicines that suppress the immune system increase the risk of skin cancer.
Other Risk Factors for Melanoma
The following risk factors increase the risk of melanoma:
* Dysplastic nevus: A dysplastic nevus is a type of mole that looks different from a common mole. A dysplastic nevus may be
bigger than a common mole, and its color, surface, and border may be different. It's usually wider than a pea and may be
longer than a peanut. A dysplastic nevus can have a mixture of several colors, from pink to dark brown. Usually, it's flat with a
smooth, slightly scaly or pebbly surface, and it has an irregular edge that may fade into the surrounding skin. A dysplastic
nevus is more likely than a common mole to turn into cancer. However, most do not change into melanoma. A doctor will
remove a dysplastic nevus if it looks like it might have changed into melanoma.
* More than 50 common moles: Usually, a common mole is smaller than a pea, has an even color (pink, tan, or brown), and is
round or oval with a smooth surface. Having many common moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.