Melanomas may appear as dark, flat moles on the skin and may have irregular borders. However, they may also have other shapes as well. If you notice new skin growths, changes to existing skin growths, a bleeding mole or a sore that does not heal, seek medical consultation immediately.

Understanding the risk factors associated with melanoma is important. This will make patients at higher risk of melanoma aware of the disease so they may take the proper precautions to reduce their risk.

Melanoma Risk Factors

Excessive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet light may lead to melanoma in many patients. Individuals who spend, or spent, a great deal of time sunbathing or in tanning beds may be at greater risk. Those who have had a severe, blistering sunburn at any time in their life may also be at risk. Those who experienced sunburn as a child or teenager may be at greater risk than those who experienced sunburn as an adult, although sunburn in the adult years may also cause melanoma.

Those who work outdoors are at risk of melanoma as well. Living in a climate that gets a lot of sun may also increase your risk of melanoma, as well as living in high elevation climates, as this increases exposure to UV light.

Individuals with fair skin, blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes may also be at greater risk of developing melanoma. Having several moles or even just one atypical mole may increase your risk as well.

Those with a family history of cancer may also be at a higher risk. Exposure to cresotote (wood preservative), coal tar, pesticides, radium and other carcinogens may also increase the risk of melanoma. Xeroderma pigmentosum is a rare condition that causes sensitivity to sunlight and may further increase one's risk of melanoma. Those with weakened immune systems may also be at risk.

Reducing Risk

To reduce your risk of melanoma, always wear sunscreen when you know you will be outdoors for an extended period of time. Fair skinned individuals may even be encouraged to wear sunscreen on a daily basis. A sunscreen of at least SPF 15 is usually required, although recommendations may be higher for some patients.

Wearing the proper clothing such as long sleeves, long pants and a hat may be helpful in preventing sun exposure as well. Checking your skin regularly, avoiding tanning beds and being aware of medicine that may cause sensitivity to the sun are also great ways to reduce your risk of melanoma.

Patients are encouraged to seek consultation with a licensed professional for more tips on identifying and reducing risks.