What Are the Risk Factors for Melanoma?

As many as 99,780 people developed melanoma in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread quickly and be deadly if not treated. It’s not just the final diagnosis that matters — it’s the risk factors along the way that help keep your doctor informed about what’s going on with your skin. There are different risk factors for melanoma, as well as for other skin cancers, depending on your personal history and family history. While some risk factors cannot be changed (such as age or genetics), others are directly under your control.

Understanding these risks can help you protect yourself from developing melanoma in the first place and recognize warning signs if you may have an increased risk of developing this disease. If caught early by a skin cancer specialist, melanoma almost always has a positive outcome. Let’s take a look at some common risk factors.


Age is one of the most important risk factors for melanoma. While people of any age can develop melanoma, the risk of developing it increases as you get older. Melanoma is incredibly rare in children, with only about 300 cases occurring in people younger than 18 each year, according to CNN. The average age of diagnosis is 52, but the incidence rate rises significantly after age 70.

While it’s not clear why the rates increase with age, some factors may include reduced immunity, increased lifetime exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), and more time for existing melanomas to progress. If you are at high risk due to a large number of moles or a family history of melanoma, you may want to start having your skin checked by a skin cancer specialist regularly at an early age. Having your doctor regularly check your skin can help them spot any suspicious moles or other changes early on.


Melanoma is twice as common in men than in women, according to the American Cancer Society. One possible explanation for this may be that men tend to have more moles, which are a risk factor for melanoma. Women, on the other hand, tend to have more freckles, which are not a risk factor. While men may be more likely to develop melanoma, women are more likely to die from it. Female melanoma mortality is partly related to the fact that they often have thicker and more invasive melanomas. This type of melanoma often results in a poorer prognosis.


The major genetic risk factor for melanoma is having a mutation in one of the genes associated with a condition called dysplastic nevi, or DND. People with DND have a larger number of moles on their skin, which have a higher chance of developing melanoma. Having many moles isn’t the only risk factor for melanoma, but it is a sign that a person has an increased risk. Moles are not just cosmetic — they are a sign that your body is doing its job.

These moles are where your body makes melanin, the pigment that protects you from the sun. If a mole looks different than it did a few months ago, or it doesn’t look like any other moles on your body, then it’s worth having it checked by a skin cancer specialist.

UV Exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most common risk factor for melanoma. UV radiation is emitted by the sun and can also come from tanning beds and sun lamps. Your risk of developing melanoma is higher if you have a history of severe sunburn. While the sun can provide vitamin D and help you get outside and exercise, it’s important to be careful about how much time you spend exposed to UV rays.

If you do spend time in the sun, make sure to use sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat and sunglasses to help protect your eyes and face.

Inflammation From UV Exposure

While not all melanomas come from a history of UV exposure, many do. When you get sunburned, UV radiation damages your cells and causes inflammation in your skin. This is the body’s way of healing itself and fighting infection, but it can create mutations in your cells that make them more likely to become cancerous. While a single bad sunburn is unlikely to cause melanoma, frequent exposure to sun and sunburns may increase your risk. Repeated exposure to UV radiation leads to more mutations in cells, which means more opportunities for melanoma to develop.

Blemishes and Moles

Blemishes and moles on your skin are not only risk factors for melanoma, but they are also warning signs that something may be wrong. If a mole changes in color, size, or texture, or if you suddenly develop a new mole, it’s important to go see a skin cancer specialist. Most of these changes are benign. However, if a mole is particularly concerning, your doctor may want to remove it and have it tested for cancer. If your doctor doesn’t recommend removing a mole, then they may recommend keeping an eye on it over time to make sure it doesn’t change in any way.

Moles are important because they are the only warning sign of melanoma that exists on your skin. Checking your moles regularly to make sure they don’t have any changes may help catch melanoma early when it’s most treatable.

How to Prevent Melanoma

In addition to going for regular skin cancer screenings every year, you can take daily steps to keep melanoma away.

Your skincare routine should include sunscreen every day, even if you don’t plan on spending time outside. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and make sure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, ears, and hands. If you’re going to be outside for an extended period, make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or swimming.

In addition to sunscreen, wear protective clothing when you’re outside. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats can help shield your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Finally, try to avoid spending time in the sun during the peak hours of UV radiation, between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. If you must be outside during these hours, take extra care to protect your skin.

Take further precautions by checking your family history for melanoma. If you have a family member who has had melanoma, you may be at a higher risk of developing it too. Talk to your doctor about your family history and what you can do to reduce your risk.

How Is Skin Cancer Treated?

Most melanomas can be cured with surgery. If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatment becomes more complex. However, with early detection and treatment, melanoma is often curable.

Skin cancer can affect anyone, even those who don’t burn in the sun. It’s important to take steps to protect your skin from the sun and to check your skin regularly for changes. If you’re concerned about a mole or other blemish on your skin, make an appointment to see a skin cancer specialist here at Arsenault Dermatology. Early detection is key to successful treatment.