Melanoma: Who Is Most At Risk?

Anyone can get melanoma. Certain individuals, however, have several risk factors for melanoma. They are at higher risk for getting the disease than the general population. But risk factors do not cause a disease. Many people with risk factors for melanoma never get the condition.

People with higher-than-normal risk include those who have or have had:

  • Many moles: Individuals who have certain types of moles, typically bigger than ordinary moles (also called ‘dysplastic nevi’), are at a greater risk of developing malignant melanoma.
  • Family history of melanoma: Having parents or siblings who have had malignant melanoma increases a person’s risk. A person with dysplastic nevi and at least two close relatives with melanoma has a 50 percent higher risk of developing melanoma.
  • Personal history of melanoma: A person who has had melanoma before may get it again in a different part of the skin. Melanoma that was treated also may recur.
  • Sun exposure: People who work or spend lots of leisure time outside are at increased risk for all skin cancers. People who live at higher elevations are also at greater risk because the atmosphere is thinner and does not filter UV rays as well.
  • Sunburn: Having one or more blistering sunburns before the age of 20 increases risk for developing melanoma later in life. Severe sunburns in adults also increase risk.
  • Immune suppression drugs: The body’s immune system detects and destroys cancer cells. Immune suppression drugs may weaken this protective action. Drugs used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs and treat cancer are among those that suppress the immune system.
  • Advanced age: Almost half of all melanoma cases are diagnosed in individuals age 50 and over. Yet melanoma is also one of the most common cancers diagnosed in people under 35.

What Is Your Personal Risk?

Use this skin type table to determine your susceptibility to skin cancer:

SKIN TYPE(Fitzpatrick)





Always sunburn, don’t tan

Fair-skinned & freckled

Very High


Always sunburn tan minimally

Fair-skinned, blonde haired, Blue-eyed, Scandinavians



Sometimes sunburn, tan moderately

Fair-skinned, brown hair, brown-eyed; unexposed skin is white



Seldom sunburn, tan easily

Light brown skin, dark brown hair, brown-eyed; unexposed skin is tan; Mediterranean, Hispanic



Rarely sunburn, tan profusely

Dark brown skin; Mediterranean, Asian, Eastern Indian

Very low


Never sunburn, Deeply pigmented



* Generally based on first exposure to sun following a long period without exposure

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