What are the risk factors for melanoma?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors, however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

The skin is the largest organ of the body, and melanoma risk factors can be either environmental and/or genetic. For example, those who have had long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from a tanning bed are at higher risk of developing melanoma.

Other risk factors include having:

  • Fair skin
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue, green or light-colored eyes
  • Exposure to environmental factors, such as radiation, solvents, vinyl chloride and PCBs
  • A history of several sunburns with blisters, especially at a younger age
  • Having several large or many small moles, or a family history of unusual moles
  • A personal history or family history of melanoma
  • Having certain changes in genes that are linked to melanoma

While people with light skin, hair and eyes have a higher risk for sun-related skin cancer, there are also risk factors for those of Hispanic, African-American and other descents.


Preventing or reducing your risk for melanoma can sometimes involve changing lifestyle behaviors and certain environmental exposures, such as over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds.

Preventive measures also include:

  • Using sunscreen year-round, SPF 30 or higher, with both UVA and UVB protection – regardless of how light or dark your skin is naturally.
  • Avoiding sun exposure midday when the sun’s rays are strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Wearing protective clothing that covers your neck, head and eyes
  • Avoiding indoor tanning
  • Taking careful precautions to limit occupational exposure to toxic substances
  • Examining your skin, head to toe, every month

Our experts also recommend knowing and understanding your personal risk factors so that you can take appropriate steps to prevent or reduce your risk for melanoma.

Screening [link to Screening section] is also important to help prevent and detect melanoma, so remember to check your skin regularly for any unusual moles, growths, bumps or patches of skin, and to discuss any abnormalities or concerns with your doctor.

We will schedule three-month, six-month or annual screening appointments, depending on your needs and your doctor’s recommendations.

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