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Risk Factors for Melanoma

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

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 doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for melanoma include:

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

Having melanoma once increases your risk of developing it again.

Having many moles or large moles 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
  • Any pigmented spot in the nail beds
  • Changing in size and/or shape

Most melanomas are diagnosed in young adults and older adults.

Family members of people with melanoma are at greater risk of developing the disease than people with no family history of the disease. People with a disease called xeroderma pigmentosa (XP) are at a very increased risk of developing melanoma. This rare disease does not allow patients to repair sun-damaged DNA, therefore any sun exposure will result in damage and mutations that become melanomatous. It is not unusual for these people to develop hundreds of melanomas on their skin. Similarly, people with hereditary dysplastic nevus syndrome or familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome are also at increased risk for developing melanoma.

Caucasians are more likely than black, Hispanic and Asian people to develop melanoma.

Most people who develop melanoma tend to burn rather than tan when exposed to sunlight. These people tend to have fair skin, freckles, red or blonde hair, or blue-colored eyes.

Revision Information

  • Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated April 3, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.

  • Melanoma risk factors. Melanoma Research Foundation website. Available at: http://www.melanoma.org/learn-more/melanoma-101/melanoma-risk-factors . Accessed April 8, 2013.

  • Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003120-pdf.pdf . Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.