Risk Factors for Melanoma

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop melanoma with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing melanoma. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Melanoma is more common in people with a family history, especially if it is a parent or sibling. This is also true if there is a history of previous melanoma or other skin cancers.

Certain genetic conditions can also increase the risk of melanoma. People with xeroderma pigmentosa (XP) have a high risk of developing melanoma. People with hereditary dysplastic nevus syndrome or familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome are also at increased risk for developing melanoma.

Other factors that may increase your chance of melanoma include:

Ultraviolet Radiation Exposure

Melanoma has been linked with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Exposing your skin to UV rays from the sun or tanning lamps increases your odds of developing melanoma. People who live in sunny climates or high altitudes have greater risk than others. Blistering sunburns, even as a child, also increase the risk of developing melanoma.

Certain occupations also put increase the risk of UV radiation exposure. Some examples include construction workers, road crews, harbor masters, electrical fitters, and telephone wire repair employees.

Skin Type

Most people who develop melanoma tend to burn rather than tan when exposed to sunlight. Those who burn tend to have fair skin, freckles, red or blond hair, or blue eyes. As a result, Caucasians are at a higher risk for melanoma than other ethnicities like those of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent.

If you have a large number of moles, it can also increase melanoma risk. Irregular moles are more likely to turn into melanoma than average moles. Irregular moles are characterized by:

  • Size—Moles on your skin are larger than average.
  • Color—Moles with different colors in them, not just the typical brown.
  • Borders—Jagged, uneven, or irregular edges around the moles.
  • Pigmented spot in the nail beds.
  • Changes in size, shape, and/or color.


Most types of cancer affect people who are older, but about half of new melanoma cases occurs in people aged 35-65 years old. Melanoma rates among young people are increasing.


In general, men have are more likely to develop melanoma. However, this can vary by age and the country you live in. The risk of melanoma is higher in women up to 50 years of age. After 50 years of age, the risk increases in men.

Current or Past Medical Conditions

If you have a history of melanoma, it increases the risk of having it again. Risk is also increased for those with a history of any type of skin cancer.

A suppressed immune system increase the risk of melanoma. This can occur with organ transplantation, HIV infection, or blood cancers. Immune suppression can result from a medical condition or its treatment.



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Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated January 10, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2017.
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Updated February 2017. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Risk factors for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Updated May 20, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.
5/18/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma: Perez-Gomez B, Pollán M, Gustavsson P, Plato N, Aragones N, Lopez-Abente G. Cutaneous melanoma: hints from occupational risks by anatomic site in Swedish men. Occup Environ Med. 2004;61(2):117-126.
Last reviewed March 2017 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 10/17/2016


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