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Causes and Risks of Melanoma

Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes melanoma to develop. They do know that melanoma occurs when some DNA cells are damaged, which can cause new uncontrolled cell growth that can develop into cancer. The process that damages the DNA in skin cells and leads to melanoma isn’t totally clear; however, they believe that a combination of factors, such as environmental and genetic factors, causes melanoma. 

Exposure to certain ultraviolet rays (UV-rays) is a main environmental risk factor. Certain genetic syndromes are considered genetic factors as well. 

UV-radiation – The sun and tanning beds

There are two types of UV rays that are believed to increase the risk for developing melanoma – UV-A and UV-B. UV-A rays are present throughout the year at a fairly consistent level. UV-B rays are stronger in the summer.

Anytime you go outside, you are exposed to ultraviolet radiation. And the longer you’re outside, the more UV-rays you’ll receive. 

Any time you get a sunburn, you increase your risk of melanoma. And if you get a sunburn that blisters at a young age, you double your risk of getting melanoma.

Tanning is skin damage. Any time your skin gets darker, you’ve been exposed to dangerous UV-rays. Tanning beds are especially dangerous because they give you concentrated exposure to UV-rays. People who use tanning beds before age 30 are at an increased risk for getting melanoma. Young people who use tanning beds on a regular basis are eight times more likely to develop melanoma than people who don’t use tanning beds. 

We understand the allure of a suntan. But exposure to ultraviolet rays can actually lead to death. Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that spreads quickly and can kill you if it’s not treated early enough. 

Risk factors for developing melanoma

Anyone can get melanoma. It doesn’t matter whether your skin is light or dark or whether you tend to tan or burn in the sun. The sun can damage all skin types. 

Exposure to UV-rays is considered the single greatest controllable risk factor for developing melanoma. And as mentioned earlier, being outside or using tanning beds will give you UV-ray exposure.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having light hair and eyes
  • Having light skin 
  • Having freckles
  • Being male
  • Being older (although melanoma is the most common skin cancer in young people)
  • Having a family history of melanoma
  • Having any abnormal moles (check out the ABCDEs of melanoma)
  • Having a personal history of melanoma and other skin cancer
  • Having many moles on your body
  • Having atypical moles (dysplastic nevi)
  • Having congenital melanocytic nevi (a type of mole present at birth)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome, familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, (FAMMM) or a family member with FAMMM
  • Having genetic syndromes, such as:
    • Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)
    • Li-fraumeni syndrome
    • Werner syndrome
    • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndromes
    • Retinoblastoma

While not all melanoma can be prevented, you can go a long way toward preventing melanoma by taking steps to keep ultraviolet light from damaging your skin. Sunscreen with UV-A and UV-B protection and clothing can help prevent the ultraviolet light from damaging your skin, as can avoiding prolonged time in the sun – especially during the middle of the day when the rays are strongest – and time in tanning beds. Learn more about preventing melanoma.

Melanoma care at Beaumont

If you have any signs and symptoms of melanoma, see a doctor right away to have a skin exam. You should also consider seeing a dermatologist for regular skin checks, and you should do monthly self-exams of your skin at home. Talk to your doctor about your risks for developing melanoma and how often you should have skin exams. Beaumont dermatologists can diagnose and treat melanoma, including performing Mohs’ surgery.

Call 800-633-7377 today to schedule an appointment with a Beaumont dermatologist or to get a referral.