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Risk Factors for Melanoma

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer.

It is possible to develop melanoma with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing melanoma. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your health care provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for melanoma include the following:

Excessive Sun Exposure

The occurrence of melanoma has been linked with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Therefore, exposing your skin to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning lamps increases your odds of developing melanoma. People who live in sunny climates are exposed to more sunlight. Also, people who live at high altitudes, where the sunlight is strongest are exposed to more UV radiation.

History of Melanoma

Having melanoma once increases your risk of developing a second primary skin cancer.

Moles

Having many moles or large moles from birth increases your risk of melanoma. Also, irregular moles are more likely to turn into melanoma than normal moles. Irregular moles are characterized by:

  • Being larger than normal moles
  • Being variable in color
  • Having irregular borders

Age

Most melanomas are diagnosed in young adults and older adults. The reason is unknown.

Genetic Factors

Family members of people with melanoma are at greater risk of developing the disease than people with no family history of the disease. This may be due to a family characteristic of fair skin.

Ethnic Background

Caucasians are more likely than black and Asian people to develop melanoma. Having darkly pigmented skin decreases the risk of melanoma.

Complexion

People who tend to burn rather than tan when exposed to sunlight and have fair skin, freckles, red or blonde hair, and/or blue-colored eyes are more prone to developing melanoma.

Sources:

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

Rakel, R. Conn's Current Therapy 2002 , 54th ed., St. Louis, MO: W. B. Saunders Company; 2002: 808-809.



Last reviewed February 2003 by Donald Lawrence, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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