We mostly blame the sun for melanoma. UV radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in your cells. Sometimes the damage is to the certain genetic code that controls how and when your cells grow and divide. When that happens cells begin to grow out of control and eventually we call it a cancer (melanoma to be precise).
Causes of Melanoma
Most UV radiation is from the sun, but there are other common sources of UV radiation. The most common source of UV radiation (aside from the sun) is a tanning bed. Be careful when using a tanning bed – don’t overdo it!
Most UV exposure that leads to skin cancer occurred to people in their childhood or young adult years. Children and young adults usually get a lot of intense sun exposure when they are young, but the resultant cancer may not show up for years or decades!
If you have family members who had (or have) melanoma, then you are in a higher risk category. Also, if you had a bad sunburn in your childhood, then you are in an creased risk category.
Although most skin moles never turn into a melanoma… there are still some that do. That is why its so important to detect changes in your skin and report them to your doctor immediately. We still don’t know why some moles turn into cancerous melanoma. We also don’t know why having lots of moles on your skin or having atypical moles increases your risk of getting melanoma.
Who Usually Gets Melanoma?
Anyone can get melanoma. If you have skin, you have a chance of getting melanoma! But there are people who have a higher risk of getting melanoma than others.
People who have lots of moles, irregular moles or large moles are at a higher risk. People with close blood relatives that have had melanoma, or who have previously had melanoma themselves are at a higher risk. Frequent sun exposure, fair skin, or inheriting a gene mutation (or any combination of these) can put a person in a higher risk category.
Talk to your doctor if you have a history of melanoma in your close blood relatives, to determine if you should have a skin exam to determine your risk factors.
Others who commonly develop melanoma are those that have fair skin and they get sunburns or freckles easily. Also those who have naturally red or blonde hair are at an elevated risk. Those who had severe sunburns as a child or young adult, or any type of cancerous or pre-cancerous spot on their skin at any age are also at an elevated risk.
No one is immune to getting melanoma. Even people with dark complexions who don’t sunburn easily can still develop melanoma! Anyone can get it!
Places that have intense year-round sunshine are more likely to have people with melanoma. Think about Florida and southern California. Also, just like with most other cancers, the older you get, the higher your risk for developing melanoma.
Doctors used to believe that dark complexion people with brown or black skin were immune from getting melanoma. That is not true. Anyone can develop melanoma. When dark complexion people get melanoma it is usually on their palms or soles of their feet or under their nails.