The following information has been re-produced with the permission of the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF).
Melanoma is a type of cancer, most often of the skin. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to lymph nodes and distant organs.
- Every hour of every day one American dies from melanoma (10,000 people per year)
- There are an estimated 996,000 people living with melanoma in the United States
- Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35.
- Melanoma is most common in men over the age of 50 (more common than colon, prostate and lung cancer).
Unlike other cancers, melanoma can often be seen on the skin, making it easier to detect in its early stages. Research suggests that nearly 90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from natural or artificial sources, such as sunlight and indoor tanning beds. Protecting your skin from UV radiation, and performing monthly skin checks can help save your life.
Effective prevention of melanoma is two-fold: First, reduce and limit UV (ultraviolet) exposure both from natural sunlight and artificial (e.g., tanning beds) sources; Second, identify and diagnose melanoma as early as possible.
Primary prevention focuses on reducing and limiting exposure to UV radiation:
- Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin — even on cloudy days — year-round
- Use a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
- Use approximately one ounce of sunscreen (a shot-glassful) and apply it approximately 15 minutes before sun exposure - then reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating
Wear protective clothing
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
- Seek shade when possible
- Remember that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use extra caution near reflective environments
- Water, snow and sand reflect and magnify the damaging rays of the sun, increasing your chance of sunburn.
- Do not burn
- Severe sunburns, especially during childhood, increase your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancer. Just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Avoid intentional tanning and indoor tanning beds
- Current research indicates there is no way to get a tan through ultraviolet exposure without increasing the risk for skin cancer. Tanned skin is a result of damage to skin cells. Research suggests that the cumulative damage to skin cells can lead to wrinkles, age spots, premature aging and skin cancer.
- Get plenty of vitamin D
- Replace vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements if recommended by your doctor – don’t seek the sun.
A note about Sunscreen and Vitamin D
Vitamin D, which is produced in the skin after sun exposure, is known to improve bone health and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Getting an adequate amount of vitamin D is dependent on these three tactics: 1) eating foods that contain vitamin D; 2) taking a vitamin D supplement; and 3) getting a small amount of sun exposure.
Please note: you do not need to tan or burn your skin to produce vitamin D. UV radiation allows the body to create vitamin D, and some have suggested that sunscreen use makes it difficult to obtain adequate amounts of vitamin D. The fact is that large epidemiologic studies reflecting real life conditions prove clearly that sunscreen use does not cause vitamin D deficiencies.
Note: You may be at a higher risk for developing melanoma if you have at least 5 of the criteria below. Talk to family members and your doctor about whether you are at an increased risk and the steps you can take to prevent melanoma.
- Fair skin, light hair color, light eye color: Light skin, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes provide less protection against damaging UV rays; however, having dark skin, hair and eyes does not eliminate your risk
- Tanning bed use: Tanning bed use before the age of 30 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Learn more about why tanning is dangerous.
- Exposure to UV radiation: Whether it’s from natural or artificial sources, limiting your UV exposure will help decrease your risk of getting melanoma
- Family history of melanoma: If one or more of your immediate family members has been diagnosed, this increases your chance of a diagnosis
- Sunburns at a young age: Just one blistering sunburn at a young age doubles your chances of a diagnosis
- High number of moles: Individuals with 50+ moles have an increased risk
- Previous melanoma diagnosis: A previous diagnosis increases your risk of a recurrence
- Weakened immune system: Certain cancers and illnesses that weaken your immune system can place you at an increased risk
- Previous non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosis: If you have been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell carcinoma in the past, you are at increased risk
- Age: Melanoma is most common in men over the age of 50 (more common than colon, prostate and lung cancer). Melanoma is the second most common cancer in teens and young adults and is the most common type of cancer for young adults.
For more information, we encourage you to access the MRF's website, which is the premier source for melanoma information seekers, and can be found at https://www.melanoma.org/