Risk Factors for Melanoma


About risk factors: Risk factors for Melanoma are factors that do not seem to be a direct cause of the disease, but seem to be associated in some way. Having a risk factor for Melanoma makes the chances of getting a condition higher but does not always lead to Melanoma. Also, the absence of any risk factors or having a protective factor does not necessarily guard you against getting Melanoma. For general information and a list of risk factors, see the risk center.

Risk factor list: The list of risk factors mentioned for Melanoma in various sources includes:

Risk factors discussion: Skin cancer is more common in people with light colored skin who have spent a lot of time in the sun. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on your body, but it is most common in places that have been exposed to more sunlight, such as your face, neck, hands, and arms. People who have certain diseases such as lupus erythematosus, or take certain drugs such as prescription acne drugs, some antibiotics, most birth control pills, or sulfa drugs (to name a few) also can have skin that is much more sensitive to the sun's rays. Some topical creams or lotions for acne and wrinkle reduction creams containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can also increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. Always check the product's label to see if it protects the skin from increased sun sensitivity or directs you to use sunscreen products while using it. You also have a higher risk of getting melanoma if:

  • you've already had one malignant melanoma

  • you have many moles, large moles or unusual moles

  • your parents, children or siblings have had melanoma

  • you are White with fair skin

  • you are a redhead or blonde

  • you had a lot of sun exposure in the first 10 to 15 years of life.


People who have had melanoma have a high risk of developing a new melanoma. Also, those with relatives who have had this disease have an increased risk.2

Some people have certain abnormal-looking moles, called dysplastic nevi or atypical moles, that may be more likely than normal moles to develop into melanoma. Most people with dysplastic nevi have just a few of these abnormal moles; others have many. They and their doctor should examine these moles regularly to watch for changes.2

In some families, many members have a large number of dysplastic nevi, and some have had melanoma. Members of these families have a very high risk for melanoma. Doctors often recommend that they have frequent checkups (every 3 to 6 months) so that any problems can be detected early. The doctor may take pictures of a person's skin to help in detecting any changes that occur.2

The following are some of the factors associated with this disease:

  • Family history of melanoma -- Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor because melanoma sometimes runs in families. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have family members who also have had this disease. When melanoma runs in a family, the family members should be checked regularly by a doctor.

  • Dysplastic nevi -- Dysplastic nevi are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. Many people have only a few of these abnormal moles; the risk of melanoma is greater for people with a large number of dysplastic nevi. The risk is especially high for people who have a family history of both dysplastic nevi and melanoma.

  • History of melanoma -- People who have been treated for melanoma are at a high risk for developing a second melanoma.

  • Weakened immune system -- People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplants, or by AIDS are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

  • Many ordinary moles (more than 50) -- Because melanoma usually begins in the melanocytes of an existing mole, having many moles increases the risk of developing this disease.

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation -- Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is also more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. In the United States, for example, melanoma is more common in Texas than it is in Minnesota, where the sun is not as strong. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to melanoma. (Two types of ultraviolet radiation -- UVA and UVB -- are explained in the Dictionary.) Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and probably an increased risk of melanoma.

    To help prevent and reduce the risk of melanoma caused by UV radiation, people should avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) whenever possible. Another simple rule is to protect yourself from the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are. Wearing a hat and long sleeves offers protection. Also, lotion, cream, or gel that contains sunscreen can help protect the skin. Many doctors believe sunscreens may help prevent melanoma, especially those that reflect, absorb, and/or scatter both types of ultraviolet radiation. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to a sun protection factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the more sunburn protection is provided. Sunscreens with an SPF value of 2 to 11 provide minimal protection against sunburns. Sunscreens with an SPF of 12 to 29 provide moderate protection. Those with an SPF of 30 or higher provide high protection against sunburn. Sunglasses that have UV-absorbing lenses should also be worn. The label should specify that the lenses block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.

  • Severe, blistering sunburns -- People who have had one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager are at increased risk for melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise protecting children's skin from the sun, which they hope will help prevent, or at least reduce the risk of, melanoma later in life. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.

  • Fair skin -- Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily (these people also usually have red or blond hair and blue eyes) than in people with dark skin. White people get melanoma far more often than do black people, probably because light skin is more easily damaged by the sun.


Risk Factors for Melanoma

  • Family history of melanoma

  • Dysplastic nevi

  • History of melanoma

  • Weakened immune system

  • Many ordinary moles (more than 50)

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation

  • Severe, blistering sunburns

  • Freckles

  • Fair skin


Risks factors for Melanoma: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to risk factors for Melanoma:

1. excerpt from Skin Cancer: NWHIC
2. excerpt from What You Need To Know About Melanoma: NCI
3. excerpt from What You Need To Know About Moles and Dysplastic Nevi: NCI

Last revision: June 2, 2003

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