Skip to Main Content

What Is Melanoma? Skin Cancer Identification, Risk Factors, and Prevention

Should you be concerned about melanoma? Skin cancer rates are on the rise, including melanoma, but a routine screening with a dermatologist will go a long way toward alleviating fears and catching trouble spots early when they are easier to treat. The key here is having the right knowledge and being diligent in checking yourself. If you know what to look for on your skin and how to protect yourself from the sun, you have a good chance of catching trouble spots at the right time — or avoiding them altogether.

Identifying Growths

People often have benign skin growths such as moles. These growths stay in place and are not life-threatening. However, if they mutate and become cancerous, they can spread and damage tissue. Melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer, develops in this same fashion: The pigment cells in the skin become damaged and mutate, spreading to other parts of the body. The problem here is benign moles and cancerous lesions often look very similar, so you want to know the trouble signs to determine if a physician should check out anything that looks suspicious.

Moles are evaluated using the ABCDE rule to determine whether they should be tested for melanoma:

  • Asymmetry. Cancer cells are irregular and grow faster than other cells. If one side of a mole is larger or irregular, this is a sign that the mole needs a closer look.
  • Border. The edge around a mole should be well-defined. If part of a mole's edge becomes blurred or ragged, unregulated cancer growth may be the cause.
  • Color. The mole's color should stay consistent throughout. If the mole develops splotchy variations in color, whether shades of the same color or different colors, it may be cause for concern.
  • Diameter. Most moles are the size of a pencil eraser or even smaller. Larger moles and moles that start growing may need to be seen by a physician.
  • Evolving. A mole experiencing any kind of significant change should be shown to a doctor, especially if it becomes rough or scaly or starts bleeding or oozing.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

People with light-colored skin, light-colored eyes, and red or blonde hair are at increased risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. However, it's important to note that anyone can get melanoma, and melanoma in people with darker skin tones is often diagnosed at a later stage because it goes unnoticed. If you have a lot of moles or several large moles, or if you have a family history of unusual moles, this is also a key risk factor.

Exposure to UVA and UVB radiation from the sun or from tanning beds is another big risk factor. Environmental exposure to solvents, radiation, and vinyl chloride may also cause melanoma, so it's just as important to check parts of the body that never see the sun.


There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing melanoma (skin cancer of any type follows the same general guidelines). First of all, limit your exposure to the sun's rays. When you're outside, cover your skin with long pants and sleeves, and wear a hat and UV-protective sunglasses. Of course, don't forget sunscreen! Make sure you're using a product with an SPF level appropriate for your skin. Be vigilant, even on cloudy days, as you can still get burned through clouds and may even be exposed via reflective surfaces.

In the end, it comes down to taking good care of your skin by protecting yourself when you're outside. If you practice basic skin protection and regularly check yourself for suspicious growths, you're staying ahead of the game. Knowing how to protect yourself and which telltale signs to look for is half the battle.

5 Questions Women Should Ask Their Primary Care Physician

MAR 01, 2023

Going to the doctor can be stressful. Whether for a general exam or a specific health problem, there is often so much information to process that we don't think to ask questions during our visit or simply feel embarrassed to ask.

Read More Additional information about Dignity Health | 5 Questions Women Should Ask Their Primary Care Physician

The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins

SEP 12, 2022

It's important to remember that vitamins and supplements cannot take the place of a healthy diet. For example, pregnant women should eat multiple servings of fresh green vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Higher doses of certain vitami...

Read More Additional information about Dignity Health | *

Breastfeeding for Working Moms: 5 Tips to Guide You

SEP 12, 2022

It's often said that breastfeeding is a full-time job. And in those first few weeks of motherhood, when it feels like you're feeding constantly, it certainly can be. But what happens a few months later when you have to go back to work?

Read More Additional information about Dignity Health | How to Make Breastfeeding for Working Moms Easy