Dermatology Associates of the Bay Area

Melanoma

Melanoma Risk Factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

No one knows the exact causes of melanoma. Doctors can seldom explain why one person gets melanoma and another does not.

However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop melanoma. Still, many people with melanoma have no known risk factors.

Studies have found the following risk factors for melanoma:

Risk factors for melanoma include the following:

  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
    • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
    • Blue or green or other light-colored eyes.
    • Red or blond hair.
  • 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 more common in people who live in sunny climates. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can damage the skin and increase the risk of melanoma.
  • Having a history of many blistering sunburns. People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma.
  • Having many (more than 50) ordinary moles: Having many moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.
  • Having several large moles
  • Having a family history of unusual moles (atypical nevus syndrome).
  • Having a family or personal history of melanoma or other skin cancers. People who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of a second melanoma. Some people develop more than two melanomas. People who had one or more of the common skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma) are also at increased risk of melanoma.
  • Having a family history of melanoma. Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. When melanoma runs in a family, all family members should be checked regularly by a doctor.
  • Having a weakened immune system: People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplantation, or by HIV are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Being white or having a fair complexion increases the risk of melanoma, but anyone can have melanoma, including people with dark skin.


Reference: National Cancer Institute