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Evaluate your melanoma risk


Evaluating your risk of developing malignant melanoma

The relative risk of a person developing melanoma depends on certain characteristics. If you have a relative risk of “1”, that means you are not at increased risk of developing melanoma. Check your relative risk by examining the list below.

Risk Factor                                                                                                                      Relative Risk

  1. History of sunburn or excessive sunlight (natural or artificial) exposure 2-3
  2. Prior history of non melanoma skin cancer (basal cell or squamous cell) 2-3
  3. Fair skin 4
  4. Red hair/ Blue eyes 2
  5. Number of moles on your body:

11 – 25 moles                                                  1.6

26 – 50 moles                                                   4.4

51-100 moles                                                    5.4

Over 100 moles                                                9.8

  1. Number of atypical, dysplastic or unusual moles

1-5 atypical moles                                           3.8

Over 6 atypical moles                                      6.3


These risks may not be strictly additive. In other words, a patient who has fair skin and blue eyes may not have a relative risk of “6”. However, it is obvious that people with multiple risk factors will have a much higher risk of developing malignant melanoma than someone who has none of the risk factors.

It is also well recognized that individuals who have a history of melanoma in a first degree relative (parent, uncle, aunt, or sibling) are much more likely to develop melanoma than someone who is not related to an individual with melanoma. It is also known that certain people carry a gene or group of genes related to the development of melanoma.

It is obvious from the above list of risk factors that most of them are beyond our control. We can not pick our parents, change our eye color or relive our childhood years. But we have a great deal of control about our future sun exposure. Practicing “safe sun” allows us to enjoy the best skin future possible for our skin.

“Safe Sun” is an active process. This includes the normal precautions of avoiding intense direct sun, tanning beds, burns and tans. It involves wearing hats with a 3 inch brim or wider to protect our ears, neck and nose. Long sleeves and long pants protect arms and legs better than any lotion can.

Remembering to apply a sun protective factor (SPF) of 25 or better to our face, neck and chest will also prevent wrinkles, sun spots (age spots) and discoloration. Don’t forget to protect your lips!   Sunglasses that wrap around provide important protection of the retina, iris, eyelids and the skin around the eye.

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