6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Melanoma

  • elderly african-american male with grandchild
    A few lifestyle habits can help prevent melanoma.
    You can't completely prevent melanoma, but you can reduce your risk of getting this serious type of skin cancer. Knowing the warning signs will help you spot it early, before it spreads. That will make it less likely you'll suffer the serious consequences of this cancer. Follow these six practices to reduce your melanoma risk.

  • Image of woman wearing a sun hat
    1. Minimize sun exposure.
    Protecting yourself from the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is the most important way to reduce your risk of melanoma. These rays can damage your skin cell DNA, which can change the way skin cells grow and lead to skin cancer. You want to avoid the sun when UV rays are at their strongest. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When you are out in the sun, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing. That means at least sunglasses and a hat.

  • Woman using sunscreen
    2. Know how to use sunscreen.
    A good sunscreen may be your best protection from melanoma. Choose a formula that screens out both UVA and UVB rays. If you'll be out in the sun for a short time, use a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. For longer times in the sun, use an SPF of at least 30. Apply about two tablespoons of the sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply it every two hours. Put on another coating right after you swim or if you're sweating a lot.

  • Tanning Bed
    3. Stay away from tanning beds and sunlamps.
    An artificial tan is just as dangerous as one you get from the sun. The lights in tanning beds and sunlamps give off UV rays. In fact, they give you more exposure over a shorter time. That raises your risk of getting other types of skin cancer as well as melanoma. Also, getting a base tan indoors does not protect you from outdoor sun exposure. That's a myth. Tanning lights are especially dangerous for younger people. That means more years of exposure, which adds up in a bad way.

  • Doctor examining mole on back of man
    4. Keep an eye on your moles.
    Most moles never turn into melanomas, but some do. That's why it makes sense to check your skin for any changes. Most people should do this every month. If you have lots of moles or moles that have odd shapes or colors, it may be wise to see a skin specialist (dermatologist) for routine skin checks. Also, always let your doctor know if you develop a new mole.

  • Multigenerational Hispanic family on porch
    5. Know your family history.
    Some types of melanoma cancer genes pass from one generation to another. Ask your doctor about gene testing if you have several family members with melanoma or a family member who had melanoma more than once. Finding out you have a melanoma cancer gene may help with prevention efforts. Your doctor may suggest you get skin checkups more often. You also may need to have any suspicious moles removed quickly.

  • Dermatologist using magnifying glass to examine woman's skin
    6. Know your melanoma ABCs.
    Actually, you need to know A, B, C, D and E. This is important when you're doing self-exams. Studies show people spot most melanomas on their own, not through their doctors. This is what to look for: "A" is for asymmetry—a mole that's not the same on both sides. "B" is for an irregular border. "C" is for color changes. "D" is for diameter (size) greater than a pencil eraser. "E" is for evolving—a mole that is changing over time. If you see any of these, let your doctor know.

6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Melanoma

About The Author

  1. Can Melanoma Skin Cancer Be Prevented? American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-prevention
  2. Melanoma Prevention Guidelines. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma/melanoma-prevention-guidelines
  3. Practicing Effective Melanoma Prevention. Melanoma Research Foundation. http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/preventing-melanoma
  4. Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm
  5. What to look for: The ABCDE of Melanoma. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect/what-to-look-for
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 2
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.