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Am I At Risk for Melanoma?


A number of people lying on towels on the beach
Many melanomas are related to time in the sun.

There is really no way to know for sure if you're going to get melanoma. Certain factors can make you more likely to get melanoma than another person. However, just because you have one or more risk factors does not mean you will get melanoma. In fact, you can have many risk factors and not get melanoma. Or, you can have few or no known risk factors and still get this cancer.

Your chance of developing melanoma increases with age. However, melanoma does develop in younger people and is one of the most common cancers in people under age 30. If you agree with any of the following bolded statements, you may be at an increased risk for melanoma. Some risk factors are out of your control, such as your complexion or family history. However, some risk factors, such as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, are factors you can control.

Each time you agree with the statement, ask yourself if you are doing all you can to control that risk factor. If you have several risk factors, especially if they're uncontrollable, learn about the symptoms of melanoma so you'll know what to watch for.

I've spent a lot of time in the sun or under tanning lamps.

This greatly increases your risk of melanoma. Sunlight and tanning lamps or booths expose you to UV light. Too much exposure increases your risk for skin cancer, including melanoma. How high your risk is depends on the length of time you've spent in the sun during your lifetime, the intensity of the light, and whether or not you protected your skin with clothes or sunscreen. If you've ever had severe blistering sunburns (even as a child many years ago), your risk is higher.

I have fair skin, lots of freckles, and light-colored hair.

Although it can't prevent melanoma altogether, skin color does have a protective effect because dark skin is less likely to burn. That's why white people are about 10 times more likely to get melanoma than African-Americans. If you also have freckles and red or blonde hair, your skin is more likely to burn, increasing your risk even more.

I have lots of moles or some large ones.

If you have many moles on your body or some large moles, you have an increased risk for melanoma. A large mole at birth, called a congenital mole, may also increase your risk.

I have atypical moles.

Atypical moles, sometimes called dysplastic nevi, may be large or unusual moles. They often run in families, may or may not be numerous, and are more likely to develop into cancer.

My mother, father, brother, sister, or child has had melanoma.

If one or more of your close blood relatives, called first-degree relatives, has had melanoma, you have a greater risk of the disease. Your risk increases with each increase in the number of relatives with melanoma. This link may be genetic or it may be due to a shared family lifestyle of frequent sun exposure.

I've had melanoma in the past.

A history of melanoma increases your risk in the future.

I've had an organ transplant or been treated with medicine to suppress my immune system.

If you've received a new organ, such as a kidney, you're given drugs to keep your immune system from attacking the new organ. If you've had, or will have, an organ transplant or medicine to suppress your immune system, be sure to talk with your doctor about the risks of these medicines and what you can do to lower your risk for melanoma.

I am male.

Your chance of developing melanoma is slightly higher than it is for females (although under age 40 the risk is higher for females).

I have xeroderma pigmentosum.

This is a rare, inherited condition. It results from an enzyme defect, which prevents repair to damaged DNA, including skin damaged by sunlight. This can lead to many cancers on sun-exposed areas of your skin, including melanoma. 


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