Melanoma Skin Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for melanoma skin cancer?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Risk factors for melanoma

Ultraviolet (UV) light: Too much exposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for most melanomas. The main source of UV rays is the sun. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays. To learn more about the effects of UV rays on the skin and what you can do to protect yourself, see Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Some types of moles: A mole is a benign (not cancer) skin tumor. The chance of any single mole turning into cancer is very low. But certain types of moles increase a person’s chance of getting melanoma. For example, people who have many abnormal moles are more likely to develop melanoma.

Light-colored skin, freckles, and light hair: The risk of melanoma is much higher for whites than for African Americans. Whites with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk.

Family history of melanoma: Your risk of melanoma is higher if you have a close relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who has had the disease.

Having had melanoma or another skin cancer in the past: A person who has already had skin cancer has a higher risk of getting melanoma.

Having a weakened immune system: People who have weak immune systems, such as organ transplant patients and people infected with HIV, have an increased risk of melanoma.

Older age: Melanoma is more common in older people, but it is also found in younger people. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in people under 30.

Male gender: In the United States, melanoma is generally more common in men than in women, but this varies by age. Before age 45, the risk is higher for women; after age 45 the risk is higher in men.

Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP): People with this rare, inherited condition have a high risk of getting melanoma and other skin cancers at a young age.

Last Medical Review: 05/01/2015
Last Revised: 05/18/2015