Melanoma: Signs, Causes, and Risk Factors for Skin Cancer


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  • Fun in the sun?

    Fun in the sun?

    An active life in the great outdoors can be invigorating and rewarding, but it also has its risks. A lifetime of sun exposure can put you at risk of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Understanding the dangers of this disease is critical.

    Click through this slideshow and follow our guidelines to help stave off skin cancer while still having fun in the sun.

  • What is it?

    What is it?

    Melanoma is the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, only one percent of all skin cancer is melanoma, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths are caused by it.

    If you’re a biker, hiker, fitness buff, avid gardener, or someone who regularly works or plays outside, it’s important to know the basics of keeping your skin safe.

  • Causes


    Melanoma is caused by excessive, unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. It begins in melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce melanin. This is the pigment that creates your natural skin color.

    When they’re exposed to sunlight, melanocytes help tan your skin. This measure protects you from burning. However, long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays makes for cancer-causing changes in melanocytes that can result in melanoma.

  • Protect yourself

    Protect yourself

    It’s essential to protect your exposed skin from the sun’s harmful rays whenever you step outside. Even one or two blistering sunburns in childhood can raise your risk of contracting melanoma in the far-off future.

    Remember to avoid the sun at its strongest, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Stay indoors or take shelter in shaded areas during these peak hours. You should also wear protective clothing outside, such as wide brimmed hats, long sleeves, and long pants. 

  • Risky business

    Risky business

    While your chances of getting melanoma increase with age and exposure to sunlight, those aren’t the only risk factors. People with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blonde hair are more susceptible to melanoma than those with darker skin and hair.

    To help mitigate these risk factors, the Mayo Clinic recommends applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to exposed skin — even in winter.

  • Check yourself

    Check yourself

    While many melanomas develop slowly, they can also advance quickly. Be vigilant and follow these screening tips:

    • Do a thorough self-examination of your skin on a regular basis, such as once a month or more frequently for higher risk groups.
    • Examine yourself after a bath or shower.
    • Pay attention to the color, shape, and size of your moles and birthmarks. Melanoma can appear as a new mole or develop in an already-existing one.
    • Visit a dermatologist annually if you have a family history of melanoma.
  • The ABCs of melanoma

    The ABCs of melanoma

    When you’re examining moles or marks, watch for any of these potential signs of melanoma:

    • A for asymmetrical: Look for moles that are irregular or not round in shape.
    • B for border: Melanomas are usually ragged, notched, or elevated, rather than smooth.
    • C for color: A benign mole is usually brown. A melanoma can be black, brown, white, or even pink or blue.
  • Don’t forget the Ds and Es

    Don’t forget the Ds and Es

    You should also watch for these two potential signs of melanoma:

    • D for diameter: Look for moles that are growing in size or are already a quarter inch — or about the size of an eraser on a pencil — in diameter.
    • E for evolving: Watch to see whether your moles change over the course of a few weeks or months.
  • See a doctor

    See a doctor

    Early detection is essential. If you notice any of the ABCDE signs, see a dermatologist immediately. If you don’t already have a dermatologist, ask your doctor for a referral.

    Melanomas can spread, which lowers your chance of a quick and complete recovery.

    Your doctor may perform a biopsy if they suspect you have a melanoma. If melanoma is confirmed, there are a number of treatments available, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. But remember: Protection is your best weapon against the sun’s harmful rays.