Melanoma: Causes and Prevention
This patient fact sheet provides patients with information on the causes of melanoma along with ways to protect against it and find support in the event of a diagnosis.
Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers worldwide, especially in young women under 30. However, most melanoma is curable in its early stages, with an over 90% survival rate. The sun's rays that nourish and energize the human body are unfortunately also a main cause of melanoma. It is important to learn what you can do to protect yourself and decrease your risk of melanoma.
Causes Of Melanoma
Ultraviolet rays Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. The two types of UV rays that cause melanoma are UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-A rays are fairly constant throughout the year, and contribute to aging and wrinkling of the skin. UV-B rays, stronger than UV-A rays, are more intense in the summer months and are the most common cause of sunburn. The longer you are out in the sun, the more UV radiation you receive. A blistering sunburn at an early age can double a person's chance of developing melanoma later in life.
Tanning Beds The popularity of tanning beds has greatly increased in recent years. Tanning beds emit UV rays to speed up the skin tanning process, which has made them especially popular with young people. However, exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases a person's risk of developing melanoma by 75%. Younger people who regularly use tanning beds are eight times more likely to develop melanoma than people who have never used them. Even occasional use of tanning beds by people under 30 triples the chances of developing melanoma.
Here are some easy ways to help protect your skin from UV rays and reduce your risk of melanoma:
Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If you have fair skin or light hair, you are more susceptible to the sun's rays and should use a sunscreen with a higher SPF.
Use waterproof sunscreen to make sure it stays on longer, even if you perspire or get wet.
Reapply sunscreen often, usually every two hours, but sooner if you've been swimming or are perspiring heavily.
Cover your whole body. Remember those areas that can be easy to forget, such as your ears, eyelids, lips, nose, hands, feet, and the top of your head.
Choose sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum,” meaning that it protects against both types of harmful rays: UV-A and UV-B.
Avoid tanning salons, as exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases your risk of melanoma.
Wear wrap-around sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection to safeguard your eyes.
Seek shade or avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sun is strongest during those hours, even on cloudy days.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
Wear a hat with a wide brim to help shade your eyes, ears and head.
Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that protects a larger area of your skin, such as long-sleeve shirts or long pants. Tightly woven fabrics in dark or bright colors are best.
Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with melanoma? Call the Melanoma Helpline at 1-877-MRF-6460 (673-6460) for reliable information, emotional support and helpful resources. The helpline is a partnership of CancerCare and the Melanoma Research Foundation (www.melanoma.org).