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Melanoma FAQs

Common Melanoma Questions

What causes melanoma?

The main cause of melanoma appears to be related to exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Although exposure to the sun is the most important risk factor, melanoma may appear on skin that is not exposed to the sun.

What are the risk factors for melanoma?

Anyone who is exposed to large amounts of sunlight such as people who work outdoors or live in areas where sunlight is very strong are at a higher risk especially if they have been severely sunburned in their youth. Other risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of melanoma
  • Fair complexion
  • Red hair
  • Severe childhood sunburn
  • Congenital nevi or atypical mole syndrome
  • Past history of atypical or dysplastic moles

What is the difference between a melanoma and an ordinary mole?

An ordinary mole is an even colored brown, tan or flesh colored spot in the skin. It can be either raised or flat and is generally less than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of an eraser). Moles have sharply defined borders and may be present at birth or appear later in life. Once a mole has fully developed, it normally remains the same size, shape, and color for many years and may even fade as the person gets older. The most important warning sign for a melanoma is a change in the size, shape, and color of a spot in your skin.

Did You Know?

  • More than 50 percent of all new cancers are skin cancers!
  • 1 in 67 Americans born this year will develop an invasive melanoma during their lifetime.
  • One person dies of melanoma every hour.
  • The incidence of melanoma more than tripled among Caucasians between 1980 and 2003.
  • More than 80% of all deaths from skin cancer are from melanoma.
  • In women, between the ages of 25 to 29, melanoma is the most common cancer.
  • Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in men and the 6th most common cancer in women.*

*According to the American Cancer Society.