Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2009, 61,646 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, including 35,436 men and 26,210 women. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30.

Risk Factors

  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure – Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major risk factor for most melanomas. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays. Ultraviolet radiation is divided into 3 wavelength ranges: UVA rays cause cells to age and can cause some damage to cells’ DNA. UVB rays can cause direct damage to DNA, and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
  • Moles – Most moles will never cause any problems, but a perons who has manu moles is more likely to develop melanoma.
  • Dysplastic Nevi – They are often larger than other moles and have abnormal shape or color. They can appear on skin that is exposed to the sun as well as skin that is usually covered, such as on the butocks and scalp. A small number of dyplastic nevi may develop into melanomas. But most dyplastic nevi never become cancerous.
  • Race / Ethnicity – The risk of melanoma is more than 10 times higher for whites than for African Americans. Whites with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk.
  • Family History – Your risk is greater if 1 or more relatives (parent, brother, sister, or child) has had melanoma.
  • History – A person who has already had melanoma has an increased risk of getting it again.
  • Age – Although melanoma is more likely to occur in older people, it is the most common cancers in people younger than 30.
  • Gender – In the United States, men have a higher rate of melanoma than women overall, although this varies by age. Before age 40, the risk is higher for women; after age 40 risk is higher in men.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

  • Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels. New spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color.
  • A spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign).
  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin.
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
  • Change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
  • Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule. A mole that changes in color or in texture, takes an uneven shape, gets larger, or typically bigger than a pencil eraser.


The ABCDE Rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:


is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.


is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.


is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.


is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.


is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Be sure to show your doctor areas that concern you and ask your doctor to look at areas that may be hard for you to see. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between melanoma and an ordinary mole, even for doctors, so it is important to show your doctor any mole that you are unsure of. Part of a routine cancer-related checkup should include a skin exam by a health care professional qualified to diagnose skin cancer. Your doctor shoud be willing to discuss any concerns you might have about this exam. Any suspicious areas or unusual moles should be seen by your doctor or by a dermatologist, a docotor who sepcializes in skin problems.

Early Detection Saves Lives!

This information was provided by the American Cancer Society. © 2013 American Cancer Society, Inc. All rights reserved. The American Cancer Society is a qualified 501[c][3] tax-exempt organization.