Home > About Melanoma: Who Is at Risk?
   
 
White
1 in 44
 
 
Hispanic
1 in 250
 
 
Native American
1 in 350
 
Asian
1 in 800
 
  Black
1 in 1,100
 


Bob Marley & Dr. Yvedt Matory
 
   


Uncontrollable & Controllable Risk Factors

Your lifetime risk of developing melanoma is higher if you have any of these specific risk factors:

   

 

50 or more normal moles
2–4x
 

 

One atypical mole*
2x
 

 

Red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, and/or a light complexion
2–3x
 

 

Heavily freckled with no atypical moles
3x
 

 

Personal history of non-melanoma skin cancer
3–5x
 

 

Undergoing immunosuppresant treatment or medication
4–8x
 

 

10 or more atypical moles*
12–14x
 

 

Heavily freckled with many atypical moles but no family history of melanoma*
20x
 

 

Personal history of melanoma
9–28x
 

 

Two immediate family members (parent, child, sibling) have had melanoma
100%
 

 

Many atypical moles and one immediate family member has had melanoma**
100%
 

 

Having certain skin diseases such as lupus or xeroderma pigmentosum
Very High
 

 

Taking a photosensitizing medication or treatment
Unknown
 

CONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS
   

 

Intermittent exposure of normally covered skin to strong sunlight+
High
 

 

One blistering sunburn under age 20
2x
 

 

Three or more blistering sunburns under age 20
5x
 

 

One tanning bed session under age 35
1.22x
 

 

10 or more tanning bed sessions in a year under age 30
7.7x
 

*Risk from Atypical Moles

Although visual characteristics are usually a good indicator that a mole is atypical, the only way to find out for certain is through biopsy. Some moles that look atypical turn out to be normal upon biopsy; conversely, some moles that look normal are found to be atypical.

The risk of a single atypical mole becoming cancerous is about one in 100, compared with one in less than 3,000 for an ordinary mole. Having atypical moles removed will not entirely reduce the risk of melanoma, because people with atypical moles often develop it in clear skin rather than in moles. Think of atypical moles as "markers" that indicate a higher than average risk for melanoma even if they are all removed.

**Risk from Familial Atypical Mole Syndrome

If you have numerous large and/or irregular moles and have a parent, brother, or sister who has had melanoma, your lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 100 percent.

Atypical mole syndrome
The back of a man with atypical mole syndrome.

+Risk from Intermittent Exposure of Normally Covered Skin to Strong Sunlight

Unlike other common skin cancers, the pattern of sun exposure is important in determining melanoma risk. Intermittent exposure may be more dangerous than chronic exposure, even if the total exposure is less. Examples of intermittent exposure include:

  • Summer exposure of skin covered in winter months (believed to be the reason why melanoma incidence is as high in northern states as in the Sunbelt, where exposure is more constant during the year).
  • Taking a winter vacation in a warm, sunny climate like Florida, the Carribean, or Mexico.
  • Weekend warriors who are indoors all week but outdoors on weekends.

Other Possible Risk Factors

Does Gender Matter?

In the U.S., the incidence of melanoma is about equal in males and females, but males have a 70 percent higher death rate from melanoma, probably because they tend to check their skin less frequently.

Is Geographic Location Important?

The risk of melanoma is similar in all states in the U.S. when adjusted for age and population differences. You are as likely to develop melanoma in Massachusetts as in Florida, and almost as likely to develop it in New York as in Texas or California. Within a state, incidence tends to be higher in coastal areas and at high altitudes. Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with New Zealand's rate nearly five times the U.S. rate. Switzerland and Norway both have higher melanoma incidence rates than the U.S.

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