Causes and prevention of melanoma

The exact cause of melanoma is unknown. But there are things called risk factors that can increase your chance of getting the disease. Exposure of white skin to ultraviolet light (UV) is the main risk factor.

  • Exposure to UV light: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma.
  • Age: Melanoma affects all age groups but is most common between the ages of 30 and 60 years. The risk of developing it increases with age.
  • Skin type and eye colouring: You are more at risk if you are fair skinned with red hair and blue eyes.
  • Lifetime exposure: Your risk increases if you have been exposed to UV light over your lifetime.
  • Moles: If you have a large number of moles on your skin and which look unusual, your risk is increased.
  • Genetic skin disorders: Your risk is greater if you have a genetic condition that makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight, such as xeroderma pigmentosum.
  • Exposure to chemicals/radiation: These include coal tar, the wood preservative creosote, arsenic compounds in pesticides and radium.
  • Family history of melanoma or skin cancer: Your risk increases if you have a family member with skin cancer. Remember though: Melanoma is not infectious and cannot be passed on to others.

How can melanoma be prevented?

Most skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding the sun when it is at its strongest and by paying attention to any early skin changes. Also, examine your skin regularly.

  • Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm. During this time the sun´s rays are strongest. This applies all year round.
  • Wear protective clothing. Clothing should be dark and tightly woven and cover your arms and legs. Also, wear a broad-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses.
  • Always wear sunscreen. Apply the cream 30 mins before going out into the sun. Apply thickly and evenly every 2 hours no matter how high its protection.
  • Use more often if swimming or perspiring. It should have UVA on the bottle. Remember no sunscreen gives 100% protection from the sun.
  • Make sure you are protected against both UVA and UVB rays. The sunscreen should have a SPF (sun protection factor) minimum of 30 or higher. It should have a UVA protection rating of high or ultra-high (four stars or more).
  • Avoid tanning beds or sunbeds

Read next: Visit our SunSmart section for information about reducing the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Monday, April 30, 2018