Home > About Melanoma: Who Is at Risk?
White male
1 in 27
White female
1 in 40
1 in 172
Native American
1 in 350
1 in 800
1 in 1,000

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


One atypical mole*


Red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, and/or a light complexion


Heavily freckled with no atypical moles


Personal history of non-melanoma skin cancer


Undergoing immunosuppresant treatment or medication


10 or more atypical moles*


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


Personal history of melanoma


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


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


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


Taking a photosensitizing medication or treatment





Intermittent exposure of normally covered skin to strong sunlight+


One blistering sunburn under age 20


Three or more blistering sunburns under age 20


One tanning bed session under age 35


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

*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?

Overall predicted incidence of new invasive melanoma in 2019 is 46 percent higher for males than for females, and predicted mortality is 90 percent higher for males. Incidence for white females ages 49 and younger is projected to be 42 percent higher than for white males in the same age group. The higher incidence for younger females has been attributed to the greater use of tanning beds; the higher mortality rate for males may be due to them being less aware of their skin than females.

Is Geographic Location Important?

The risk of melanoma is similar in all states in the US 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 US rate. Switzerland and Norway both have higher melanoma incidence rates than the US.