Do You Know These Surprising Melanoma Risk Factors?

You’ve heard it before: Spend­ing too much time in the sun with­out sun­screen or using tan­ning beds can cause skin can­cer. These may be com­mon risk fac­tors you’ve heard often, and that’s because the major­i­ty of skin can­cers are caused by over­ex­po­sure to ultra­vi­o­let (UV) rays, which come from the sun, tan­ning beds, and sunlamps. 

While these caus­es of skin can­cer are often well known, you may not know as much about melanoma, a rar­er form of skin can­cer. Melanoma only accounts for about 1% of skin can­cer cas­es — but it is respon­si­ble for the major­i­ty of skin can­cer deaths. And while expo­sure to UV rays is a major risk fac­tor for melanoma, it’s not the only one. 

Also read, Where Can Melanoma Be Hid­ing on My Body?

If you are con­cerned about melanoma, con­tact a Duly Health and Care dermatologist.

Here are 9 oth­er sur­pris­ing melanoma risk factors.

1. Fair Skin, Fair Game for Melanoma. 1 in 38 White peo­ple will get melanoma at some point in their life, while only 1 in 1,000 Black peo­ple will get it. That makes it more than 20 times more com­mon among White peo­ple than Black peo­ple. Peo­ple with dark skin have high­er amounts of melanin (what gives skin and eyes their col­or), which pro­tects the skin from the sun’s ultra­vi­o­let rays.

2. There’s an Eye-Open­ing Truth: Hav­ing blue or green eyes may increase your like­li­hood of devel­op­ing an eye can­cer called uveal melanoma. While the exact rea­son is still not 100% clear, there is evi­dence of an asso­ci­a­tion between the genes linked to eye col­or and to devel­op­ing uveal melanoma.

3. It Runs in the Fam­i­ly. About 10% of peo­ple with melanoma have a fam­i­ly mem­ber who has or has had melanoma. There are mul­ti­ple fac­tors that might be the cause of this risk, such as genet­ic muta­tions, sim­i­lar shades of skin, or shared expe­ri­ences with sun exposure.

4. The Num­ber of Can­dles On Your Cake Mat­ters. Being over age 50 increas­es your risk of melanoma, and the aver­age age of diag­no­sis is 65. But that doesn’t mean that younger peo­ple aren’t at risk.

  • Melanoma is the third most com­mon can­cer in adults ages 15 – 29. 
  • Young women under age 30 are 6 times more like­ly to devel­op melanoma if they tan indoors.
  • Sun­burns dur­ing younger ages can increase your risk of devel­op­ing melanoma lat­er in life. It only takes five blis­ter­ing sun­burns between ages 15 and 20 to increase your risk of melanoma by 80%. 

5. The Risk Changes With Age and Sex. In the US, the risk of melanoma is high­er for women before 50, but high­er for men after age 50.

6. Around 20 to 30% of Melanomas Devel­op From Exist­ing Moles. Hav­ing 50+ moles, hav­ing a very large mole, or hav­ing atyp­i­cal moles (more than one col­or, jagged bor­der, or not per­fect­ly round) puts you at high­er risk for melanoma.

7. Your Immune Sys­tem Affects Your Melanoma Risk. A con­di­tion like HIV or tak­ing med­ica­tion after an organ trans­plant that weak­ens your immune sys­tem may make you as much as 6 times more like­ly to devel­op melanoma.

8. Your Med­ical His­to­ry Makes a Dif­fer­ence. A his­to­ry of cer­tain con­di­tions can increase your risk for melanoma, including:

  • Skin, breast, or thy­roid cancer
  • Hered­i­tary Breast and Ovar­i­an Can­cer Syn­drome (HBOC)
  • Oth­er inher­it­ed con­di­tions, like xero­der­ma pig­men­to­sum (extreme sun sen­si­tiv­i­ty), Wern­er syn­drome (pre­ma­ture aging), or retinoblas­toma (can­cer that forms in the back of your eye, most com­mon among children)

9. You Have Tat­toos — Espe­cial­ly Large Ones. While not exact­ly a risk fac­tor for melanoma itself, it is a risk fac­tor for not notic­ing melanoma until it’s in a lat­er stage. Tat­toos that cov­er large por­tions of your skin can make it hard to see changes in moles under the ink.

Spot­ting Melanoma

Almost all adults have a few moles, and most moles are harm­less. But there are sev­er­al warn­ing signs that a mole might actu­al­ly be a sign of skin cancer.

Since May is Melanoma Aware­ness Month, it’s a good time to become more famil­iar with the signs of melanoma by remem­ber­ing the ABCDE method:

Source: Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion

The E” (Evo­lu­tion) is the most impor­tant ABCDE to look for when per­form­ing a self-skin exam­i­na­tion. Moles that change in col­or, sym­me­try, or size are often the first signs of melanoma.

Addi­tion­al­ly, you may be able to spot melanoma using the Ugly Duck­ling” method. If a mole doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly fit into the ABCDEs, but looks dif­fer­ent than the oth­er moles on your body, it should also be checked by a dermatologist. 

If you notice any of these signs, or have con­cerns about melanoma or skin can­cer in gen­er­al, reach out to your Duly Health and Care der­ma­tol­o­gist.

  • Early in my training at the Mayo Clinic I was taught that the interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered. With that as my guiding principle, I strive to create a warm and trusting relationship with my patients so they may feel at ease discussing their skin care issues with me. I believe strongly in educating patients on how best they can be in control of their own outcomes; they are the ones who live day to day in their own skin and I need them to help with their care plan! Lastly, I try to administer a healthy dose of laughter with each prescription or procedure as I've found this helps my patients get better more quickly.