They include a personal or family history of melanoma and the presence of atypical, large, or numerous (more than 50) moles. Heavy exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, from sunlight or the use of indoor tanning, is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer, and indoor tanning devices are classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Risk is also increased for people who are sun-sensitive (e.g., sunburn easily or have natural blond or red hair color) and those who have a history of excessive sun exposure (including sunburns) or skin cancer. People with a weakened immune system are also at increased risk for skin cancer.
According to a recent study by American Cancer Society researchers, most melanoma cases and deaths are potentially preventable. Exposure to intense UV radiation can be minimized by wearing protective clothing (e.g., long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat, etc.); wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays; applying broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to unprotected skin; seeking shade; and not sunbathing or indoor tanning. Children should be especially protected from the sun (and indoor tanning) because severe sunburns in childhood may particularly increase risk of melanoma. In 2014, the US surgeon general released a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer because of the growing burden of this largely preventable disease. The purpose of this initiative is to increase awareness and encourage all Americans to engage in behaviors that reduce the risk of skin cancer.
The best way to detect skin cancer early is to be aware of new or changing skin growths, particularly those that look unusual. Any new lesions, or a progressive change in a lesion’s appearance (size, shape, or color, etc.), should be evaluated promptly by a physician.