July 14, 2017 | Stephen Fine, Founder and President
Melanoma Risk Factors
There’s no question that a primary trigger in developing skin cancer (and its most lethal form, melanoma) is unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, there are some factors that can increase our susceptibility. Some of them are within our control, and, unfortunately, some of them are not.
Regardless, it’s still vital to be aware of both, as knowing these risks are there will make us more likely to pay closer attention to our skin. Catching melanoma early enough can easily mean the difference between life and death.
There’s a famous old saying that applies so well to skin cancer, its’ author could very well be referring specifically to it: Knowledge is power.
We’re here to provide some of that knowledge today, with the hope that you’ll help us spread it far and wide.
What Can’t I Control Regarding Melanoma?
Right up front, we’d like to clarify a popular misconception that skin cancer is strictly a Caucasian disease. Believing that incorrect notion can turn out to be a huge mistake. Any human being of any ethnicity can develop melanoma.
With that said, melanoma does play favorites. Whites have the greatest risk at about 1 in 44. In descending order, they’re followed by Hispanics (1 in 250), Native Americans (1 in 350) Asians (1 in 800) and Blacks (1 in 1,100).
The following uncontrollable risk factors for melanoma are grouped together based on their amount of risk:
Characteristics that increase melanoma risk by a factor of 2-4:
- One atypical mole
- 50 or more normal moles
- Heavily freckled with no atypical moles
- Green or blue eyes, blond or red hair
- Parkinson’s Disease
(Click here for more information on atypical versus normal moles)
Characteristics that increase risk by a factor of 9 or more:
- 10 or more atypical moles
- Personal history of melanoma
- If two or more immediate family members have had melanoma, or if you are heavily freckled and one immediate family member has had melanoma, you have a 100% chance of getting it
- Specific skin diseases, including Lupus and Xeroderma Pigmentosum, carry a high but undefined risk
- Photosensitizing medication or treatment increases the risk, but the degree has yet to been determined
What Can I Control Regarding Melanoma?
Depending on your current age, some of these points may have already passed you by. If at one time any of them applied to you, it’s important to keep an extra-sharp eye out when doing your monthly skin self-examinations. Those who are in the two highest risk categories should have a dermatologist examine them every six months at minimum. Due to their skin-specific medical training, dermatologists are more adept at diagnosing skin cancer than general practitioners are:
- Unprotected intermittent skin exposure to sunlight during any season of the year, in any climate
- A single blistering sunburn under age 20 doubles the risk; 3 or more increase it 5 times
- One use of a tanning bed under age 35 ups the odds nearly 1¼ times, while 10 or more uses under age 30 elevates the risk nearly 8 times