Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes, specialized cells in the skin that produce the brown pigment known as melanin. These are the cells that darken when exposed to the sun in order to protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Melanoma is highly curable if caught early, but is deadly if not treated. We should all be aware of the following facts about this deadly and preventable disease.

  • One person dies from Melanoma every hour of every day.
  • Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the U.S. and attacks males and females of all ages, races and skin types.
  • It is the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25-29 years old, and the 2nd most common cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 15-29.
  • Almost 90% of Melanomas are thought to have been caused by exposure to UV light and sunlight.
  • It takes only one blistering sunburn, especially at a young age, to more than double a person’s chance of developing Melanoma later in life.
  • Exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases a person’s risk of developing Melanoma by 75%.
  • Young people who regularly use tanning beds are 8 times more likely to develop Melanoma than people who have never used them.



For information on the causes and risk factors associated with Melanoma, we follow and support The Skin Cancer Foundation’s extensive recommendations. We’ve compiled the information below from their site. For more information please visit The Skin Cancer Foundation.


Am I At Risk?

Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors: sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics).

Select a topic to learn more.

Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can induce skin cancer, including melanoma. Blistering sunburns in early childhood especially increase risk, but sunburns later in life and cumulative exposure also may be factors. People who live in locations that have more sunlight — like Florida, Hawaii, and Australia — develop more skin cancers, but some more northern locations with light-skinned populations also have a high number of skin cancers. Avoid using a tanning booth or tanning bed, since it increases your exposure to UV rays, raising your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.
There are two kinds of moles: normal moles — the small brown blemishes, growths, or “beauty marks” that appear in the first few decades of life in almost everyone — and atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi. Atypical moles can be precursors to melanoma, and having them puts you at increased risk of melanoma. But regardless of type, the more moles you have, the greater your risk for melanoma.
Skin Type
As with all skin cancers, people with fairer skin (who often have lighter hair and eye color as well) are at increased risk. Do you know your skin type? Click here to take the Skin Type Quiz.
Once you have had melanoma, you run an increased chance of recurrence. People who have or have had basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma are also at increased risk for developing melanoma.
Compromised immune systems as the result of chemotherapy, an organ transplant, excessive sun exposure, and diseases such as HIV/AIDS or lymphoma can increase your risk of melanoma.


Heredity plays a major role in melanoma. About one in every 10 patients diagnosed with the disease has a family member with a history of melanoma. If your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history of the disease.

When this skin cancer is diagnosed, it is standard practice for physicians to recommend that close relatives be examined immediately for melanoma and for the presence of unusual or atypical moles. These moles are also called “dysplastic nevi.”
When atypical moles are found in an individual belonging to a melanoma family, the condition is known as FAMMM, standing for Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma Syndrome. People with this syndrome are at the greatest risk of developing melanoma. In contrast, a research study found that those family members who did not have atypical moles were much less likely to develop melanoma.
A mutation (alteration) in a recently discovered gene, BRAF, can play a part in causing many melanomas. This mutated gene is found in about half of all melanomas. BRAF is called a “switch” gene, because mutations can turn it on abnormally, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer. The discovery of BRAF was an exciting research breakthrough, and with the development of vemurafenib (Zelboraf TM), FDA-approved in 2011 to inhibit BRAF, physicians and patients began to reap rewards. Increasing understanding of the BRAF gene could lead to the development of new diagnostic tools and has already led to approval of several new and improved drug therapies.

The mutations most commonly seen in familial melanoma occur in another gene, p53. When this gene is in its normal state, it functions as a tumor suppressor, giving damaged cells the chance to repair themselves without progressing to cancer. However, when the gene is altered, it becomes unable to perform this function, and cancer can result. Complicating matters, new research shows that the same ultraviolet (UV) damage that produces skin damage can damage p53, causing the alterations that eliminate its ability to suppress tumors.

A number of gene mutations in addition to p53 and BRAF have been associated with familial melanoma, notably the CDKN2A (cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A) gene. In the future, families might be screened to identify those members who are carrying a defective gene. If, as a result, they become particularly vigilant in watching their moles and having regular total-body skin examinations, they will most often detect melanomas at the earliest stages, when the chances of a cure are excellent. In fact, testing is now commercially available for the presence or absence of the CDKN2A gene, but the consensus of melanoma experts is that genetic testing is not yet warranted for most people and should be done only in the context of clinical trials.

Moles in people belonging to melanoma-prone families are subject to change at certain times of life. They may get larger or show alterations in color or elevation, so for those periods, they are described as being active. While the reasons for these changes are not fully known, there could be a hormonal component: Moles are more active at puberty and during pregnancy. Many — but not all — physicians advise high-risk individuals not to take hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.
Individuals with atypical mole syndrome can improve their chances of early detection by increasing the frequency of skin self-examination and by visiting a physician more often for a full-body skin exam. The clinician may take photographs to document whether there are new moles or changes in older ones.
Children in melanoma-prone families need special care, because familial melanoma is likely to make its appearance early in life. Even though these cancers usually do not appear until after adolescence, they may arise in much younger children who have a family history of melanoma. Most physicians, therefore, advise parents to make a point of studying a child’s skin frequently from infancy on.

Physician examination in these families should start at the age of 10 and continue on a twice-a-year basis thereafter. Particular care should be taken at puberty and during adolescence when hormonal changes activate the moles. Here is some encouraging news: Because melanoma families are on the lookout for the disease and seek professional consultation early, the survival rate for familial melanoma is even higher than that for non-familial melanomas.

Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Read our full list of skin cancer prevention tips.

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

July 29, 2014
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 205-0143

Skin cancer rates rising: most cases are preventable
Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, is a major public health problem that requires immediate action, according to a new Call to Action released today by the U.S. Surgeon General.

Even though most skin cancers can be prevented, rates of skin cancer, including melanoma, are increasing in the United States. Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for skin cancer every year, at an average annual cost of $8.1 billion. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. teens and young adults.

A key message in today’s report is that although people with lighter skin are at higher risk, anyone can get skin cancer—and it can be disfiguring, even deadly. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans who have had skin cancer is estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined.

“While many other cancers, such as lung cancer, are decreasing, rates of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — are increasing,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H.

“As a skin oncologist who worked in this field for many years, I have cared for both the young and old with skin cancers. Almost all of these cancers were caused by unnecessary ultraviolet radiation exposure, usually from excessive time in the sun or from the use of indoor tanning devices.”

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Each year, more than 63,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. and nearly 9,000 people die from this disease. Rates of melanoma increased more than 200 percent from 1973 to 2011. Melanoma is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. teens and young adults.

According to research cited in the Call to Action, more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of which are melanomas, are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the U.S. each year. Currently, as many as 44 states plus the District of Columbia have some type of law or regulation related to indoor tanning, but nearly one out of every three white women aged 16 to 25 years engages in indoor tanning each year.

“Tanned skin is damaged skin, and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. “When people tan or get sunburned, they increase their risk of getting skin cancer later in life.”

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action helps to educate consumers by providing everyday steps they can take to lead healthy and active lives while being outdoors. These steps include wearing protective gear (such as a hat, sunglasses, and other protective clothing) and seeking shade along with the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to protect any exposed skin, especially during midday hours.

“We want all Americans to lead healthy, active lives,” Dr. Lushniak said, “We all need to take an active role to prevent skin cancer by protecting our skin while being outdoors and avoiding intentional sun exposure and indoor tanning.”

The report calls on all sectors of Americans society, including the business, health care, education, government and nonprofit sectors, as well as families and individuals, to do more. Examples include communities providing shade in outdoor settings, health care providers counseling patients on the importance of using sun protection, and educational institutions discouraging indoor tanning.

Read the Call to Action to learn how to prevent skin cancer at