Risk Factors and Prevention

Risk factors and prevention

Melanoma care with Northwestern Medicine Dermatology

About 1 in 40 Caucasians will experience melanoma, and 10% of them will have melanoma more than once.1 Protecting your skin from UV rays can significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

In addition, one-to-two people per million are diagnosed with melanoma in the palm of their hand, and sole of their feet and/or nail unit each year.2 Melanoma on the palms, soles and nail units occurs with a similar incidence in different skin types.

Melanoma risk factors include having:3-6

  • A lighter complexion
  • A tendency to burn instead of tan
  • A history of tanning bed use:
    • 32% increased risk for women with more than 30 tanning bed sessions
    • 16% to 20% increased risk with any tanning bed use
  • Increased sun exposure and extensive sunburns
  • Immunocompromised status
  • A family history of melanoma

Prevention Tips

These tips can help prevent melanoma:

  • Avoid the sun, especially during the middle of the day. This is when harmful UV rays are strongest.
  • Wear enough sunscreen and sun-protective, ultraviolet-protective factor (UPF) clothing.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection. Reapply it every 2 hours or after swimming.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • See your dermatologist (skin care physician) regularly. Early detection is key to curing melanoma.

These are some of our highly recommended sunscreens:

  • Elta MD Daily SPF 40
  • Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46
  • Elta MD UV Physical Tinted SPF 41
  • Elta MD UV Shield SPF 45
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 60 Ultra Light Fluid
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 60 Melt-In Milk
  • Juice Beauty Tinted Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30
  • Mineral Fusion Facial Moisturizer SPF 40
  • Supergoop! Daily Correct CC Cream SPF 35+

Our team provides the following prevention related services:

  • Expert dermoscopic assessment of pigmented lesions
  • Short-term dermoscopic monitoring
  • Digital automated total body mole mapping
  • Tape-stripping of moles when appropriate
  • Biopsy and surgical excision of atypical pigmented lesions
  • Imiquimod (Aldara) and other topic chemotherapies for skin cancers that are difficult to excise
  • Genetic counseling and genetic testing for possible hereditary melanoma
  • Close collaboration with our surgeons who perform Mohs surgery for lentigo maligna melanomas
  • Close collaboration with our surgical oncologists for advanced cases
  • Genomic testing and interpretation of borderline melanocytic tumors, such as atypical spitz tumors, pigmented epithelioid melanocytomas or other non-conventional subtypes of melanocytic tumors


  1. Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed September 15th, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  2. Bradford PT, Goldstein AM, McMaster ML, Tucker MA. Acral lentiginous melanoma: incidence and survival patterns in the United States, 1986-2005. Archives of dermatology. 2009;145(4):427-434.
  3. Can Melanoma Skin Cancer Be Prevented. American Cancer Society. Accessed September 10th, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html#written_by
  4. Colantonio S, Bracken MB, Beecker J. The association of indoor tanning and melanoma in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American academy of dermatology. 2014;70(5):847-857. e18.
  5. Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj. 2012;345
  6. Ghiasvand R, Rueegg CS, Weiderpass E, Green AC, Lund E, Veierød MB. Indoor tanning and melanoma risk: long-term evidence from a prospective population-based cohort study. American journal of epidemiology. 2017;185(3):147-156.