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What Causes Melanoma?

What is Melanoma_MainMelanoma is a skin cancer that develops from melanocytes, our pigment-producing cells. Cancer is caused by uncontrolled growth of cells. In the case of melanoma, the uncontrolled growth comes in the form of melanocytes. Melanocytes live in the skin, nervous system, inner ear and heart. As dermatologists, melanoma is the skin cancer we worry about the most because it can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal. Unfortunately, there’s not just one thing we can blame melanoma on because the development of melanoma is multifactorial. What are some of the contributing factors to developing Melanoma?    
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 1.  UV rays: We know that UV rays damage DNA. Both regular and intermittent exposure to the sun contributes to sunburns and melanoma. Damaged DNA sometimes “turns on” an oncogene (a gene that causes a tumor cell) or “turns off” a tumor suppressor gene (a gene that usually stops the uninhibited growth of cells), which opens the door for cancer to develop. This is why it’s critical to protect your DNA from UV damage by wearing sunscreen every day.      2.  Geography: Since UV rays damage DNA, it makes sense that more intense sun would cause more severe damage, right? People who live close to the equator as well as those living at high altitudes get more intense sun exposure and have an increased risk of melanoma.       3.  Family history:  Melanoma can be labeled “familial” when two or more first-degree relatives have had melanoma. When there are alterations in one of two specific genes (named CDKN2A or CDK4), people are at risk for this type of melanoma. Individuals with familial melanoma often have “funny looking moles” which is known as “atypical mole syndrome,” a condition in which moles may appear irregular looking and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from melanoma. This is why when melanoma runs in your family; it is critical to be seen by a board-certified dermatologist on a regular basis for skin checks.      4.  The number of moles and freckles: Having a large number of moles increases the risk of developing melanoma. We know that having over 100 moles can increase your risk of melanoma to up to 10x the risk of those with few moles. Having lots of freckles is also a risk factor.     5.  Skin type: Melanoma is more common in Caucasians, particularly in very fair-skinned people. Redheads with light eyes seem particularly susceptible. This does not mean that darker-skinned people can’t get melanoma, but it is less common. Are you surprised to learn you have a higher risk of melanoma if you are fair skinned or live near the equator? Even if you are at lower risk, what changes have you made in your outdoors habits to help protect against UV damage? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.   HayesDr. Hayes - Board Certified Dermatologist       This email was brought to you by Dr. Bailey Skin Care, LLC, a company that specializes in skin care products.  To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe below. Disclaim Medical Advice:  The information in the Dr. Bailey Skin Care web site, and related links, articles, newsletters and blogs, is provided as general information for educational and advertising purposes only.  The information is the opinion of Dr. Cynthia Bailey, or other indicated authors.  Consult your physician or health care provider for any specific medical conditions or concerns you may have.  (This also applies to Dr. Bailey’s patients in her medical practice in Sebastopol - the information is not a substitute for, or an extension of, the medical care she provides her patients.)  Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. Use the information and products referred to in this information at your own risk.  Use of the Dr. Bailey Skin Care web site, and related links, articles, newsletters and blogs indicate your agreement with these statements and the Terms and Conditions of  If you do not agree to all of these Terms and Conditions of use, please do not use this site.

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