How to Prevent Melanoma

Three Parts:Protecting your Skin from Ultraviolet RaysDetecting Melanoma EarlyCalculating your Risk of Getting Melanoma

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and everyone — no matter your skin color — is at risk. Over seventy percent of all skin cancer deaths are related to melanoma and the incidence of melanoma has been increasing dramatically for several decades.[1][2] It’s the most serious types of skin cancer there is. Melanoma accounts for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths, but fortunately, melanoma treatment is almost always curative and it is also a very preventable cancer. With proper care, you can drastically reduce your chance of getting it. Learn to protect yourself from one of the deadliest forms of cancer in existence.

Part 1
Protecting your Skin from Ultraviolet Rays

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    Limit your exposure to the sun. Melanoma begins in your body’s melanocytes (the cells responsible for producing your body’s pigment or color). Ultraviolet rays from the sun interact with these melanocytes, causing them to produce a dark protective pigment. If your melanocytes are overexposed to ultraviolet rays, melanoma can begin to form. Malignant tumors are a result of cumulative cellular effects of UV light and inability of skin to mount a defense to it. Melanomas have ability to metastasize to any organ, including brain. While you may think your dark tan looks healthy, you’re actually damaging your skin.[3]
    • When you are outside, look for shade. By staying in the shade, you prevent your skin from taking the full force of the ultraviolet rays produced by the sun.
    • It only takes ten minutes of direct sun exposure for your body to get the recommended amount of vitamin D.
    • Just one peeling sunburn can double your risk of getting melanoma in the future.
    • The sun’s ultraviolet rays are usually at their strongest from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. Try not to plan your outdoor activities between those time.
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    Use sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone generously apply a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply about an ounce of sunscreen and spread it over any parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun.
    • You should still wear sunscreen on cloudy days. Ultraviolet rays can actually penetrate your skin through the clouds.
    • Buy broad spectrum protection sunscreen. All sunscreen protects your skin from UVB rays (short wave ultraviolet rays) but it may not protect your skin from UVA rays (long wave ultraviolet rays). Make sure the bottle says your sunscreen is effective against both.[4]
    • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating profusely.
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    Cover yourself up. While you’re out in the sun, wear clothes that cover as much of your body as possible. Long sleeve shirts, pants that cover your legs and long skirts can help protect you from the sun. Thick knit clothing will provide better protection than clothes made of thin material.
    • Wide- or long-brimmed hats keep your scalp safe and provide shade. They provide more protection than baseball caps or visors.
    • Sunglasses will keep the sun away from your eyes and the skin around them. Choose polarized sunglasses to decrease the risk of developing cataracts.
    • Look into clothing and swimwear that is made with special fabrics that protect you from the sun.
    • Dark colors are more effective against the sun than light ones. A white t-shirt only offers a mere SPF boost of about four.[5]
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    Avoid artificial tanning. Tanning beds and lamps can drastically increase your risk of getting melanoma. They directly expose your body to intense ultraviolet radiation with little to no protection. In a tanning bed, you’ll receive five times the amount of damaging UVA rays that you would be exposed to with natural sunlight. There is a significant scientific evidence that indoor tanning before age 30 is linked to increased risk of developing the disease.[6]
    • You may think that after getting a “base tan” from a tanning bed, you’ll be less likely to get melanoma because you won’t get sunburns; however, people who don’t burn in the sun are at a higher risk for getting melanoma because they typically don’t take measures to protect themselves.
    • UVA rays penetrate your skin deeper than UVB rays and can cause your skin to age and wrinkle faster than normal.
    • Tanning beds can also be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria if they are not properly maintained.
    • Remember that tan is an evidence of injury to the skin. The thinner skin of children and teens is particularly vulnerable to damage from UV radiation.

Part 2
Detecting Melanoma Early

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    Examine your body. At least once a month, search your entire body for signs that melanoma may be forming. Look at your body from head to toe. Use a mirror to inspect the parts of your body you can’t see like your face, back, neck and the backs of your legs. Get your partner to examine some of the hard-to-see areas, like the top of your head. Remember to look at the places where the sun doesn’t shine, like the soles of your feet, behind your knees or your buttocks (this is especially true for people of color, as skin cancer in people of color is often found on areas of the body that aren’t typically exposed to the sun). Insignificant freckles or spots on your skin usually aren’t cause for alarm but you should watch out for abnormal moles or marks that may be growing or changing shapes. You can use ABCDE mnemonic to remember signs of cancerous moles.[7]
    • A is for asymmetry. Your mole is asymmetrical. Both halves of it look different.
    • B is for border. The border of your mole is uneven with notched instead of round edges.
    • C is for color. The color is changing or the mole consists of multiple colors. Your mole may be darker than a normal mole on your body or parts of it may turn red or purple.
    • D is for diameter. Your mole is larger than 6 millimeters (the size of the pencil eraser).
    • E is for evolution or change. If your mole is changing, it might be a time to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. If your mole changes between self exams, then melanoma may be growing.
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    Go for a checkup. Periodically, you should have your physician take a look at your skin to make sure melanoma is not growing. Early detection of melanoma plus regular skin exams are extremely important. During a general checkup, the doctor won’t have time to inspect your entire body so be prepared before you go in. Direct your doctor to take a look at any specific areas that you may be concerned about.[8]
    • People under the age of forty should see a physician at least once every three years.
    • People older than forty should see a physician at least once a year.
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    Visit a dermatologist. If you or your doctor come across any areas of your skin that you are particularly concerned about, it might be a good idea to seek out the expertise of a dermatologist. A dermatologist specializes in treating a person’s skin and will have the training and equipment to accurately evaluate whether or not you have melanoma. A dermatologist will be able to do a total body exam and record and measure all of your moles which may provide a good baseline for the future visits.
    • A dermatologist will be able to examine the deeper pigment of your skin with the use of an ultraviolet lamp.
    • A dermatologist will have the experience to identify melanoma with more certainty than a normal doctor.
    • A dermatologist may perform an excision biopsy on any suspicious mole.
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    Have a biopsy done on your mole. To perform a biopsy, your dermatologist will cut off a tiny piece of a mole in order to test it in a lab. The detached tissue can be examined closely under a microscope and tested to see if it is in fact melanoma. If the dermatologist fears that the melanoma could have spread to other parts of your body, she might ask to do a biopsy of lymph nodes near the area as well.
    • A biopsy is nothing to be afraid of. It’s a very minor procedure and the doctor will use anesthesia so you shouldn’t experience any pain.
    • Biopsies allow doctors to look at tissue more closely than other methods like x-rays.

Part 3
Calculating your Risk of Getting Melanoma

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    Be careful at work. People who have jobs that force them to be outdoors constantly have a higher risk of getting melanoma than people who work inside. If you work outside or are exposed to intense sunlight at your job, be sure to take every precaution you can to protect yourself from the sun. Some examples jobs that could put you at risk include:
    • Lifeguard
    • Pilot
    • Farmer
    • Construction worker
    • Sailor/Sailing instructor
    • Garbage collector
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    Keep your hobbies safe. Even if you don’t work outside for most of the week, you should still protect yourself on the weekends. Bursts of ultraviolet rays can increase your chance of getting melanoma, especially if you spend most of your time indoors.[9] If you enjoy being outdoorsy on your days off, take good care of your skin.
    • Office workers have a higher risk of getting melanoma than most careers. This is because they’re skin isn’t used to being in the sun. When they do go out in their free time, the sun wreaks extra havoc on them.
    • Always use copious amounts of sunscreen if you play outside sports like sand volleyball or golf.
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    Research your family history. If people in your family have had melanoma, then you may have a greater risk of getting it yourself. Gene mutations can be passed down from one generation to the next. It’s possible that your family’s genes are more susceptible to melanoma than those of other people.
    • You can have your DNA tested by a geneticist to get a complete understanding of all the conditions you might be prone to.[10]
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    Take extra care if you have a light skin tone. It’s easier for people with lighter skin to get melanoma. The dark pigment in people’s skin serves to protect them from ultraviolet rays. Lighter skinned people also burn much easier than darker skinned people. If you have light skin tone, you should be very cautious about spending time in the sun.
    • People with blond hair and blue eyes also have a higher risk of getting melanoma.
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    Stay well overall. Take care of your overall heath by eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising. Keeping your body and immune system in top form may help your body battle cancerous cells.
    • Eat foods rich in antioxidants, such as legumes, kale, green leafy vegetables, carrots, fish (especially salmon), fruits, whole grains, and flax seed.
    • Take recommended daily doses of antioxidant supplements, including beta carotene, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E and fish oils.
    • Drink one to two glasses of red wine a day. Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in the skins of grapes, has a potent anti-cancer properties and becomes concentrated in red wine during the fermentation process.
    • Avoid other forms of alcohol other than red wine, as alcohol in general is detrimental to a person’s health in many ways and suppresses the immune system.


  • Check yourself for abnormal marks at least once every month.
  • Buy broad spectrum sunscreen that protects your skin against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Your skin doesn’t get all the benefits of the antioxidants you eat. You can use a topical cream with vitamin C or other nutrients to strengthen your skin against melanoma and other diseases.
  • Wear sunscreen before getting a gel manicure (since it utilizes UV light to set the gel in place), apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your hands to prevent skin cancer and premature skin aging.


  • Melanoma is one of the fastest spreading skin cancers. If you’re worried you may have melanoma, see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Surfaces like water, sand and snow reflect ultraviolet rays from the sun causing greater damage to your skin. Remember that you can still get sunburned in the winter or on cloudy days.
  • Certain medications increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Be careful in the sun if you’re taking antibiotics, medicine for rheumatoid arthritis or any other prescription that could affect your skin’s tolerance to the sun.[11]

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Categories: Skin Conditions