Risk Factors

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Unites States and melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of any risk factors that you may have for melanoma. Risk factors are those things that may increase the chances of developing a condition. Knowing your risk factors is the first step in prevention and early detection.

There are two types of risk factors — those that can be controlled and those that cannot be controlled. In terms of controllable risk factors, the primary cause of most skin cancers is sun and ultraviolet radiation exposure and sunburn. These can be controlled by:

  • Reducing sun exposure
  • Wearing protective clothing
  • Avoiding sun exposure at midday, when ultraviolet light is most intense
  • Applying sunscreens regularly and frequently 
  • Avoiding sun lamps, tanning beds and tanning salons

Uncontrollable risk factors for melanoma include having:

  • A close blood relative with a history of melanoma
  • Several distant relatives with a history of melanoma
  • A family history of other skin cancers
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • Fair skin, blond or red hair and blue, green or gray eyes
  • Sun sensitivity or the tendency to burn and freckle rather than tan
  • Large, asymmetrical or unusual-looking moles
  • More than 50 moles
  • Weakened immune system: Conditions that weaken the immune system include long-term treatment with medications used to prevent organ rejection, lymphoma and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum: This is a rare, inherited condition that makes one less able to repair damage caused by sunlight.

Melanoma can develop in anyone, even people who have no risk factors. Healthy young people — even those with dark skin, hair and eyes — can develop skin cancer.