Comprehensive Cancer Center
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer and can occur on any skin surface. In men, it is often found on the trunk (area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs.
Sunlight — Sunlight is a source of UV radiation. It's the most important risk factor for any type of skin cancer. The sun's rays cause skin damage that can lead to cancer.
Severe, blistering sunburns — People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn are at increased risk of skin cancer. Although people who burn easily are more likely to have had sumburns as a child, sunburns during adulthood also increase the risk factor of skin cancer.
Lifetime sun exposure — The total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime is a risk factor for skin cancer.
Tanning— Although a tan slightly lowers the risk of sunburn, even people who tan well without sunburning have a higher risk of cancer because of more lifetime sun exposure.
Sunlamps and tanning booths — Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, can cause skin damage and skin cancer. Health care providers strongly encourage people, especially young people, to avoid using sunlamps and tanning booths. The risk of skin cancer is greatly increased by using sunlamps and tanning booths before age 30.
Personal history— People who have had melanoma have an increased risk of developing other melanomas. Also, people who have had basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer have an increased risk of developing another skin cancer of any type.
Family history — Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives (mother, father, sister, brother, or child) who have had this disease is a risk factor for developing melanoma. Other types of skin cancer also sometimes run in families. Rarely, members of a family will have an inherited disorder, such as xeroderma pigmentosum or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, that makes the skin more sensitive to the sun and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Skin that burns easily — Having fair (pale) skin that burns in the sun easily, blue or gray eyes, red or blond hair, or many freckles increases the risk of skin cancer.
Certain medical conditions or medicines — Medical conditions or medicines (such as some antibiotics, hormones, or antidepressants) that make your skin more sensitive to the sun increase the risk of skin cancer. Also, medical conditions or medicines that suppress the immune system increase the risk of skin cancer.
A change in a mole's size, shape, color or feel can indicate melanoma. Think A-B-C-D to remember what to look for:
- Asymmetry — The shape of one half does not match the other half.
- Border — The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred or irregular in outline, and the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Color — The color is uneven with shades of black, brown and tan. Areas of white, grey, red, pink or blue also may be seen.
- Diameter — If there is a change in size, it's usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the average eraser of a pencil (5 millimeters or ¼ inch).
If the doctor suspects that a spot on the skin is melanoma, you will need to have a biopsy. This procedure is usually done in the doctor's office using a local anesthetic.
Source: National Cancer Institute