Cutaneous Melanoma

Can Melanoma of the Skin be Prevented?

When it comes to cutaneous melanoma, or melanoma of the skin, several items can be considered to help prevent melanoma or help diagnose it in its earliest stages.

According to the research, the vast majority of skin cancer cases and deaths are caused by exposure to UV radiation, making them potentially preventable. Here are some ways you can reduce your UV exposure:

1. Wear sunscreen…even on cloudy days

Use a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30. “Broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen protects against both types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB. Each time you apply, use approximately one ounce (a shot-glassful) and apply it 15 minutes before sun exposure – then reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Remember, sunscreen is just one component of sun safety and just because you’re wearing sunscreen, doesn’t mean you can spend unlimited time in the sun.

2. Wear protective clothing

Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, whenever possible.

3. Seek shade

The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

4. Use extra caution near reflective environments

Water, snow and sand reflect and magnify the damaging rays of the sun, increasing your chance of sunburn.

5. Do not burn

Severe sunburns, especially during childhood, increase your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancer. Just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later in life.

6. Avoid intentional tanning and indoor tanning beds

Research indicates that just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later in life. In addition, using tanning beds before age 30 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. Occasional use of tanning beds triples your chances. Research also suggests a strong dose-response relationship – meaning the more sessions, hours and years spent tanning, the higher the risk of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30 years old and the second leading cause of cancer death in women 30-35 years old.1

Research has shown that patients, not doctors, are most likely to spot a melanoma, reinforcing the importance of thoroughly checking your skin each month, as well as scheduling annual professional skin exams with a dermatologist. Early detection could save your life. 

Catch Melanoma Early – It May Save Your Life!

When we think of melanoma prevention, we often think of the usual: using sunscreen, covering up, not burning and staying out of tanning beds.. But, did you know that finding a suspicious mole or spot and having it checked out by a professional is considered one of the most important steps to preventing cutaneous (skin) melanoma? Detecting melanoma when it’s early enough to treat could mean the difference between life and a life-threatening illness.

If you see something, don’t be afraid to say something!

Too often we notice a suspicious mole on ourselves or someone else, yet we don’t make it a priority to get it checked out. As many patients and survivors have recounted, their melanoma was found by a friend or a partner who happened to notice something different – and urged them to see a dermatologist. It helps to know the symptoms of melanoma, but it’s not required – if any mole is changing, you should have it checked out. Catching melanoma in its earliest stages is one of the most important factors in improving the prognosis (or outcome) of a melanoma diagnosis. Did you know that melanoma can also occur in places that don’t see the sun? Arm yourself with knowledge and learn more about mucosal melanoma, as well as what to look for in children.

What does melanoma look like?

Melanoma and other skin cancers vary from person to person, but if you suspect that a spot on your skin fits the following descriptions, talk to your doctor right away. Note that not all skin cancers and melanomas fall into these categories, so just use this list as a guideline:

  • A change on the skin – this could be a new spot, or a change in color, shape or size of a current spot
  • A spot, sore or mole that doesn’t heal, becomes painful or tender
  • A mole that becomes itchy or begins to bleed
  • A spot, sore, mole or lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth or pale
  • A firm red lump that bleeds or appears ulcerated or crusty
  • A flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly
  • A black/dark spot or streak under a fingernail or toenail (that doesn’t come from previous trauma to the nail)2-3


  1. Lotze MT, Dallal RM, Kirkwood JM, Flickinger JC. Cutaneous melanoma. In DeVita VT, Rosenberg SA, Hellman S. (eds.), Principles and Practice of Oncology, 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2001.
  2. National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, https://moles-melanoma-tool.cancer.gov/
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/symptoms.htm


Content last reviewed: August 20, 2020