Health A-Z

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To reduce your risk of melanoma, stay out of the sun. A bad sunburn is a major risk factor. Spending a lot of time in the sun as a child may pose the greatest risk. To be safe in the sun, take these steps:

  • Apply plenty of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

  • Wear protective sunglasses, clothing (long sleeves and long pants) and wide-brimmed hats.

  • Stay out of the sun when it is strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

  • Ask your doctor if any medications you take could make your skin more likely to be damaged by the sun.

  • Avoid tanning salons. If you want to look tan, use sunless tanning creams. They are available in department and drug stores.

Melanoma is often easy to spot early, because it can be seen on your skin. If you are at risk of developing melanoma, ask your doctor to examine your skin. Also ask your doctor how often you should have your skin checked.

Your doctor will pay special attention to any atypical looking moles. Because some melanomas can arise from existing moles, your doctor may remove atypical moles. These moles may be more likely to become cancerous. Alternatively, your doctor may take pictures of your moles. He or she can compare the photos to your moles in the future to see if they have changed.

Examine your skin regularly, especially if you have risk factors for melanoma. Use a full-length and hand-held mirror. Have someone examine your scalp using a blow dryer to part your hair. That person can also examine your back and other areas that you can't easily see. Watch for new moles and changes in existing ones. Keep an eye on moles that you've had since birth; these moles may be more likely to turn into melanoma.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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