What Causes Melanoma?

Experts believe that many cases of melanoma are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Energy from the sun is a form of radiation. It consists of visible light and other rays that people can’t see. Invisible infrared radiation, for instance, makes sunlight feel hot. UV also is invisible, and causes sunburn and suntan.

UV rays damage DNA, the genetic material that makes up genes. Genes control the growth and health of skin cells. If the genetic damage is severe, a normal skin cell may begin to grow in the uncontrolled, disorderly way of cancer cells. UV rays also cause sunburn and other damage that makes the skin wrinkle prematurely.

There are two kinds of rays in ultraviolet radiation:

  • ultraviolet A (UVA)
  • ultraviolet B (UVB)

Scientists once thought that UVA rays were the main cause of melanoma. Now they think that UVB rays are also involved. That’s why it is important to use a sunscreen product that protects against both UVA and UVB.

Abnormal genes that children inherit from their parents may make them more likely to get melanoma. Inherited genetic characteristics can include physical appearance (such as pale skin) as well as hidden tendencies to develop certain diseases. Scientists have discovered a gene, called the p16 gene, than can cause malignant melanomas.

Need to Know:

People with close relatives who had malignant melanoma may have inherited a damaged gene that increases their risk for skin cancer. For them, preventive measures and regular skin exams can be especially important.

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