Who's Most at Risk for Metastatic Melanoma?

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People of any age or race can get melanoma. Everyone is at risk to some extent, but some people are at higher risk due to skin type, sun exposure, and genetics. If left unchecked, the melanoma can become metastatic, spreading to other parts of your body. Therefore it's not only important to know the risk factors for melanoma but also the risk factors for metastatic melanoma, so you can catch the cancer before it spreads.

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Risk Factors for Melanoma

Ultraviolet exposure. The sun's rays contain harmful ultraviolet light (UV), as do tanning beds and UV lamps. Exposure to these sources of UV light can damage your skin and put you at greater risk for skin cancer.

Moles. There are two types of moles. Almost everyone has normal moles, which are small, round, and usually appear in the first few decades of life. On the other hand, atypical moles are irregularly shaped. People with many moles or atypical moles have an increased chance of developing melanoma.

Skin type. People with fair skin are at increased risk.

Family history and genetics. About one in ten people diagnosed with melanoma has a family member who has had the disease. Those with an immediate family member who has had melanoma are 50 percent more likely to contract it than those with no family history.

Risk Factors for Metastatic Melanoma

Being single. People without a long-term significant other or spouse may be at increased risk. An extra pair of eyes can help spot changes in a mole or growth on the skin, especially in hard-to-see places, like your back. So if you live alone, take special care to keep track of changes in your skin.

Cloudy climates. Even if you live somewhere that is not very sunny much of the time, you are still at risk of UV exposure. In fact, the UV index may be higher in some places that are typically overcast, depending on geographical location and season.

Irregular checkups. Physicians can help spot melanoma or precancerous areas on the skin. People who go to the doctor infrequently or don't have health insurance may also be at increased risk for other types of cancer.

Hidden moles. Pay special attention to hidden moles, especially those on the scalp. Melanoma that is hidden by hair is associated with a higher mortality rate than melanoma on other parts of the body. This is because it is often left undiagnosed for a long time, giving the cancer a chance to metastasize.