Melanoma Skin Cancer

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can melanoma skin cancer be prevented?

There is no sure way to prevent melanoma. Some risk factors such as your age, gender, race, and family history can’t be controlled. But there are things you can do that could lower your risk of getting melanoma and other skin cancers.

Limit your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays

The most important way to lower your risk of melanoma is to protect yourself from exposure to UV rays. Practice sun safety when you are outdoors.

Seek shade

Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure.

“Slip! Slop! Slap!®… and Wrap”

If you are going to be in the sun, this catchphrase can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays:

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.

Avoid using tanning beds and sunlamps

Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. Tanning lamps give out UV rays, which can cause long-term skin damage and can contribute to skin cancer. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it is started before a person is 30. Most dermatologists (skin doctors) and health organizations recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps.

Protect children from the sun

Children need special attention, since they tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn more easily. Parents and other caregivers should protect children from excess sun exposure by using the steps above. Children need to be taught about the dangers of too much sun exposure as they become more independent.

To learn more about sun safety

For more on how to protect yourself and your family from UV exposure, see Skin Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection.

Watch for abnormal moles

Checking your skin regularly may help you spot any new or abnormal moles or other growths and show them to your doctor before they even have a chance to turn into skin cancer.

Certain types of moles are more likely to develop into melanoma (see Melanoma skin cancer risk factors). If you have moles, depending on how they look, your doctor may want to watch them closely with regular exams or may remove some of them if they have features that suggest they might change into a melanoma.

Routine removal of many moles is not usually recommended as a way to prevent melanoma. Some melanomas develop from moles, but most do not. If you have many moles, getting careful, routine exams by a dermatologist, along with doing monthly skin self-exams are, might be recommended.

If you find a new, unusual, or changing mole, you should have it checked by a doctor experienced in recognizing skin cancers. See Signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer for descriptions of what to look for.

Avoid weakening your immune system (when possible)

Having a weakened immune system increases your risk of getting melanoma and other types of skin cancer.

Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can weaken the immune system. Avoiding known risk factors for HIV infection, such as intravenous (IV) drug use and having unprotected sex with many partners, might lower your risk of skin cancer and many other types of cancer. (For more information, see HIV Infection, AIDS, and Cancer.)

Some people need to take medicines to suppress their immune system. This includes people who have had organ transplants and some people with autoimmune diseases. People with cancer also sometimes need to take medicines such as chemotherapy that can lower their immune function. For these people, the benefit from taking these medicines will likely far outweigh the small increased risk of getting skin cancer.


Last Medical Review: 05/19/2016
Last Revised: 05/20/2016