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Risk Factors

The usual risk factors associated with cancer, e.g., cigarette smoking, are not associated with melanoma risk. Rather, melanoma risk factors include sun exposure, family history, genetics and phenotypical traits such as skin, hair and eye color.

Known risk factors for melanoma of the skin include:

  • Previous melanoma or other skin cancer
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi)
  • 50 or more moles
  • History of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including UV exposure at tanning salons
  • History of sunburns, particularly severe sunburns in childhood
  • White race, especially people who have fair skin that burns rather than tans
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Blue eyes
  • Many (extensive) freckles on the upper back
  • Other cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Impaired immune system
  • Moles that are present at birth, especially if the moles are larger than 20 cm (giant congenital melanocytic nevus)
  • Equatorial latitudes
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum - a rare inherited disease in which the body cannot repair damage to cells by UV radiation from the sun
  • PUVA treatment, used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis