Melanoma Center

Melanoma Causes and Risk Factors

What causes melanoma?
No one knows the exact causes of melanoma. Doctors cannot really explain why one person gets melanoma and another does not. However, the most like cause of melanoma remains:

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation - Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can induce skin cancer, including melanoma. Damage to the DNA of melanocytes from exposure to the sun and its UV light radiation is one of the most important factors in the cause of melanoma. UV radiation from the sun can cause premature aging and skin damage that can lead to melanoma. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and increase the risk of melanoma. Doctors encourage people to limit their exposure to natural UV radiation and to avoid artificial sources of UV radiation.

Risk factors
Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors. Although having dark skin can lower the risk of melanoma, for instance, this does not mean that a person with dark skin will never get melanoma. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop melanoma. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease. The following risk factors are currently documented for melanoma:

Family history - If anyone in your immediate family has had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family and you have 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history. If the cancer occurred in a removed family member, there is still an increase in risk, although it is not as great.

Immune system - A compromised immune system that is the result of chemotherapy, an organ transplant, excessive sun exposure, and/or diseases such as HIV/AIDS or lymphoma can increase risk of melanoma.

Medications - Treatment of psoriasis with the combination of psoralen and UVA (PUVA) increases the risk of melanoma for several years after treatment is finished.

Moles - The more moles you have, the greater your risk for melanoma. Dysplastic nevi are especially more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous.

Personal history - Once you have been diagnosed with either basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, you are at increased risk for developing melanoma.

Skin type - As with all skin cancers, people with fairer skin that burn in the sun or freckles easily (people with red or blonde hair and blue eyes) are at increased risk of developing melanoma than those with darker skin.

Sun and sunburn - People who have experienced at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child, teenager or adult are at increased risk of melanoma. The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it is more directly overhead. It is also more intense when you are at high altitudes. Melanoma is also more commonly diagnosed in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun or in people who use tanning beds/booths.

If you are in any of these risk groups, practice safe sun habits, examine yourself regularly, and watch for the warning signs of melanoma and other skin cancers. To learn to identify signs and symptoms of melanoma continue reading. The next section on Melanoma Symptoms covers early symptoms of melanoma and a description of what does melanoma look like here.

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