What Causes Melanoma?

The main cause of melanoma is too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the skin.  UV rays from the sun and other sources, like tanning booths, can damage skin cells, causing the cells to grow abnormally.

Melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, protects the skin from damage by sunlight and UV rays.  In fair-skinned people, the skin cells called melanocytes make less melanin, so there is less protection against the harmful rays from the sun.  Fair-skinned people have a higher risk for melanoma and other types of skin cancer if they have too much exposure to sunlight.

Melanoma is also more common in people who live in areas with large amounts of UV radiation from the sun, such as the Southwestern United States.  Some people may have a hereditary defect that increases their risk of melanoma.  Melanoma can also run in families,  so people with two or more close relatives who have had melanoma have an increased risk of developing the cancer. 

Risk Factors for Developing Melanoma:

         – Fair skin, light eyes, numerous freckles
         – Severe, blistering sunburns as a child or adult
         – Family history of melanoma
         – Having had melanoma in the past
         – Non-cancerous, unusual looking moles (dysplastic nevi)
         – A weakened immune system (people with HIV/AIDS, or people
           taking medicines that suppress the immune system)
         – Exposure to UV radiation from tanning beds

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