What are the risk factors for melanoma?


A risk factor is any factor that is associated with increasing someone’s chances of developing a certain condition, such as cancer. Some risk factors are modifiable, such as lifestyle or environmental risk factors. Others cannot be modified, such as inherited factors or whether someone in the family has had cancer. 

Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will develop cancer. Many people have at least one risk factor but will never develop cancer, while others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a person with cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of their disease. 

Melanoma risk factors 

Factors that are associated with a higher risk of developing melanoma include: 

  • a fair complexion (including fair skin that burns or freckles easily, blue or green eyes, and blonde or red hair) 
  • unprotected exposure to sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) energy (e.g. tanning beds) 
  • a history of sunburns that caused blistering, especially in childhood 
  • having some large moles, many small moles, or moles that look different from normal moles 
  • a family history of unusual moles or melanoma 
  • a personal history of skin cancer, including melanoma 
  • xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic condition that prevents the skin from repairing itself from UV damage 
  • exposure to certain environmental factors, including radiation, and some chemicals (e.g. solvents) 
  • a weakened immune system from disease or side effects of medicines 
  • age – melanoma is most likely to occur in older people. 
  • Being male– in Australia and New Zealand, melanoma is more common in men than in women. 

Find out more 

  1. American Cancer Society (US) (2019). Melanoma skin cancer https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer.html
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (US) . NCCN guidelines for patients: melanoma. https://www.nccn.org/patientresources/patient-resources/guidelines-for-patients/guidelines-for-patients-details?patientGuidelineId=21
  3. National Cancer Institute (US). Melanoma treatment (PDQ®) https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq, patient version. 
  4. Cancer Council Australia (2021). Melanoma https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/melanoma.