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Risk factors for melanoma

Skin protection takes center stage each spring and summer. Though it’s important to protect skin whenever spending time outdoors, including in winter, many people get the bulk of their outdoors time in when the weather is at its warmest, making sunscreen a must-have accessory in spring and summer.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can spread rapidly to other organs if it is not treated at an early stage. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that between 70 and 80 percent of melanomas arise on normal-looking skin. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, that exposure can contribute to skin damage. Ultimately, melanoma can occur when damage from sunburn or tanning due to UV radiation triggers mutations that lead to uncontrolled cellular growth.

Because melanoma is inextricably linked to exposure to UV radiation, it’s understandable if people assume that it’s always preventable. However, the American Cancer Society notes that there is no way for people to completely prevent melanoma. That’s because some of the risk factors are beyond individuals’ control. However, other risk factors are within people’s control, and recognizing those factors can help people lower their risk for melanoma.

Uncontrollable risk factors

Genetics and skin type are two significant risk factors for melanoma that are beyond individuals’ control. The SCF notes that one in every 10 melanoma patients has a family member who had the disease. In addition, melanoma is found more frequently in people with fair skin than in people with darker skin. Melanoma also is found more in people with light eyes, light-colored hair and red hair.

People with these physical characteristics and family histories must be especially vigilant when spending time outdoors. Applying sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and wearing protective clothing and hats that protect the skin from UV radiation are two ways that people with fair skin and family histories can protect themselves from melanoma.

Controllable risk factors

Unprotected or excessive UV exposure is a significant risk factor for melanoma. Anyone, regardless of their family history or skin type, should prioritize protecting their skin when spending time outdoors. The American Skin Association advises all people to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

Tanning beds also pose a threat in relation to melanoma. The ACS notes that the idea that the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless is a misconception. Tanning lamps give off UV rays that can cause long-term skin damage and the ACS reports that tanning bed use has been linked to an increased risk of melanoma, especially among people who use such beds prior to turning 30.

Checking the skin routinely is another way to combat melanoma. The ACS notes that certain types of moles are more likely to develop into melanoma than others. Routine self-examinations of skin can help people spot new or abnormal moles or other growths. Recognizing these abnormalities and reporting them to a physician immediately can help doctors treat them before they turn into skin cancer.

Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. Recognizing the various risk factors for melanoma is an important first step in combatting the disease.

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