Melanoma Risk Factors
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The Melanoma Risk Assessment program is designed for people at high risk of melanoma because of personal or family medical history.
For more on Melanoma Risk Assessment and eligibility, call weekdays at
215-214-1448 or 1-888-FOX CHASE
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Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Up to 10 percent of melanoma patients have one or more first-degree relatives (parent, brother, sister, child) with a history of melanoma. A person with this family history has a risk of melanoma up to eight times greater than someone without a family history of the disease.
People whose close relatives have had melanoma may have inherited a genetic variation that increases their risk of developing this cancer. Scientists at Fox Chase Cancer Center and elsewhere are working to understand the genes involved in this hereditary susceptibility.
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Other factors that increase a person's risk of melanoma include severe blistering sunburns, especially at young ages, and excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, tanning lamps and tanning booths. People with red or blond hair and fair skin that freckles or sunburns easily have the highest risk of melanoma.
Another predisposing trait is an increased number of moles and an increased number of atypical moles: moles larger than 6 millimeters in diameter, or as big around as a pencil eraser, with irregular borders or colors. Someone with one or more of these moles and two close relatives with melanoma has a 50 percent or greater risk of developing melanoma.
The risk of melanoma among Caucasians is higher than among African-Americans due to the protective effect of dark skin pigment. However, dark-skinned people can still develop melanoma, especially on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails or even inside the mouth. In rare cases, melanoma can also occur in the eyes.
Being at risk does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer. Rather, your chances of developing a cancer are greater than those of someone who has no personal or family history of the disease or other special risk factors. There are ways you and your family can reduce this risk.