Anyone can get melanoma, but fair skinned sun sensitive people are at greater risk. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major culprit, and people who tan poorly or burn easily are at the greatest risk. While to much sun is a bad idea throughout life, sunburns in children and teenagers seem to be the most damaging.
In addition to sunburns early in life, people with many moles are at greater risk to develop melanoma. Everyone has moles, usually around 30, and most are without significance. However, people with more than 50 moles are at an increased risk. In addition to the number of moles, some moles are unusual and irregular looking. These moles are known as dysplastic or atypical moles. People with atypical (dysplastic) moles are at increased risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma does run in families. If a close relative, such as a parent, aunt or uncle, has had melanoma, then other blood relatives are at increased risk for melanoma.
All of these features, fair skinned, sun sensitive people, a history of sunburns, many moles, atypical moles, and close relatives who had melanoma, allow us to identify those at risk for developing melanoma. Anyone, even those with none of the risk factors, can develop melanoma, but people with one or more of the risk factors are more likely to do so. If you have some of these risk factors, periodic routine skin examinations by your dermatologists can truly be life saving.