A risk factor is any factor that is associated with increasing someone’s chances of developing a certain condition, such as cancer. Some risk factors are modifiable, such as lifestyle or environmental risk factors, and others cannot be modified, such as inherited factors or whether someone in the family has had cancer.
Having 1 or more risk factors does not mean that you will develop cancer. Many people have at least 1 risk factor but will never develop cancer, while others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a person with cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of their disease.
Factors that are associated with a higher risk of developing melanoma include:
- a fair complexion (including fair skin that burns or freckles easily, blue or green eyes, and blonde or red hair)
- exposure to sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) energy (e.g. tanning beds)
- a history of sunburns that caused blistering, especially in childhood
- having some large moles, many small moles, or moles that look different from normal moles
- a family history of unusual moles or melanoma
- a personal history of skin cancer, including melanoma
- xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic condition that prevents the skin from repairing itself from UV damage
- exposure to certain environmental factors, including radiation, and some chemicals (e.g. solvents)
- a weakened immune system from disease or side effects of medicines
- age – about half the people who develop melanoma are older than 50
- sex of the patient – in Australia and New Zealand, melanoma is more common in men than in women.
Find out more:
Lifestyle and risk reduction
Position Statement on Lifestyle risk factors and the primary prevention of cancer
- American Cancer Society (2015). Melanoma skin cancer www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-what-is-melanoma (accessed 10 April 2015).
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2014). NCCN guidelines for patients: melanoma, version 1.2014 http://www.nccn.org/patients/guidelines/melanoma/index.html (accessed 19 May 2015).
- National Cancer Institute (US) (2015). Melanoma treatment (PDQ®) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/melanoma/Patient, patient version (accessed 10 April 2015).
- Cancer Council Australia (2015). Melanoma http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer/melanoma.html (accessed 20 May 2015)