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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

 
Risk factors

Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of melanoma. Some may apply to you, but others may not.
Age
Physical features
Sunburns
Immunosuppressive medications
Family history



Age and melanoma
The risk of melanoma goes up with age, but it tends to develop earlier in life than many other cancers. The average age at diagnosis is 57.

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Physical features and melanoma
People who have naturally light-colored hair, light-colored eyes, or fair skin have a higher risk of melanoma. This is because people with these features often have lower levels of pigment in their skin and are more likely to get sunburned. (Pigment gives skin its color. Higher levels of pigment make skin darker and help protect it from the sun.) Also, people with many moles on their skin are at higher risk that people with fewer moles. (Moles are darkened areas on the skin that are often brown or black and can be either raised or flat.)

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Sunburns and melanoma
People who have severe, repeated sunburns as children have a higher risk of melanoma. This is because the radiation from the sun can cause abnormal changes in skin cells that develop into cancer later in life. Sun damage in adulthood can also raise the risk of skin cancer.

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Immunosuppressive medications and melanoma
People who have taken immunosuppressive medication have a higher risk of melanoma. Immunosuppressive medications are very important and are used for different medical conditions. For example, after an organ transplant, these drugs are necessary to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ. However, they can also interfere with the body’s ability to respond to abnormal cell changes, which increases the risk of abnormal cell growth and cancer.

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Family history and melanoma
People who have a mother, father, brother, or sister with melanoma have a higher risk of the disease. This is because some cases of melanoma are linked to mutations (changes) in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed from generation to generation.

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