Jeffrey John Meffert, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
What are the causes and risk factors for melanoma?
Guideline # 5: Individual sunburns do raise one's risk of melanoma. However, slow daily sun exposure, even without burning, may also substantially raise someone's risk of skin cancer.
Factors that raise one's risk for melanoma include the following:
The presence of close (first-degree) family with melanoma is a high risk factor, although looking at all cases of melanoma, only 10% of cases run in families.
Having a history of other sun-induced skin cancers, such as the much more common basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, indirectly raises one's risk of melanoma because they are markers of long-term sun exposure. The basic cell type is different, however, and a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma cannot "turn into melanoma" or vice versa.
How can people estimate their level of risk for melanoma?
The best way to know one's risk level is to have a dermatologist perform a full body examination. That way one will find out whether the spots one has are moles and, if so, whether they are abnormal in the medical sense.
The medical term for such moles is atypical. This is a somewhat confusing term, because among other things the criteria for defining it are not clear, and it's not certain that an atypical mole is necessarily precancerous. Patients who have lots of "atypical moles" (more than 24) do have a higher risk for developing melanoma but not necessarily within one of their existing funny-looking moles. It may be a challenge to find the "baby melanoma" in the middle of a back full of large, dark, or irregular moles. If someone has such moles, a doctor will recommend regular surveillance and may recommend biopsy of the most unusual or worrisome looking moles.
Sometimes, one learns at a routine skin evaluation that one does not necessarily need annual routine checkups. In other situations, a doctor may recommend regular checks at 6-month or yearly intervals.
What are the types of melanoma?
The main types of melanoma are as follows:
There are also other rarer forms of melanoma that may occur, for example, under the nails (subungual), on the palms and soles (acral lentiginous), uveal or choroidal (ocular), oral or vulvar mucosa, or sometimes even inside the body.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2016
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