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Can melanoma be prevented?

Not all melanomas can be prevented, but there are things you can do that might reduce your risk:
  • Limit UV exposure. The best way to lower the risk of melanoma is to limit your exposure to strong sunlight and other sources of UV light. 
  • Stay in the shade. Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you are not sure about how strong the sun is, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are at their strongest, and you need to protect yourself. 
  • Protect your skin with clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts are best. Dark colors are better than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Dry clothing is better than wet clothing.
  • Wear a hat. A hat with at least a two-to-three-inch brim all around is good because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm. Broad spectrum products (which protect against different types of UV rays) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more are recommended. 
  • Wear sunglasses. Wrap-around sunglasses that absorb at least 99% of the UV rays help protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes. Look for sunglasses labeled as blocking UVA and UVB light.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These products give out UVA and often UVB rays as well. Both of these can cause long-term skin damage and are linked to skin cancer. 
  • Protect children from the sun. Be especially careful about sun protection for children. Children tend to spend more time outdoors and they burn more easily. Teach them to protect themselves from the sun as they get older. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun with hats and clothing. Sunscreen may be used on small places of exposed skin only if there isn’t enough shade or clothing.
  • Check for abnormal moles and have them removed. If you have many moles or abnormal moles, your doctor may want to watch them closely with regular exams and may advise you to do monthly skin self-exams. The doctor may want to remove some of them if they have certain features that suggest they might change into a melanoma. If you find a new, unusual or changing mole, you should have it checked by your doctor.

Melanoma can be prevented.

People at high risk are those with fair skin, who have many moles, especially atypical nevi, who have had a first degree relative with melanoma, or have a personal history of the disease, and who have chronic sun exposure either through their work or recreational activities.

Everyone should use a broad spectrum SPF sunscreen of at least 15 that is applied once before heading outdoors, and then reapplied after sweating, swimming or getting wet.

You should examine your skin regularly and look for moles that are asymmetric, have irregular borders, have multiple colors within their boundaries, that are larger in diameter than others on your body. Doctors call this looking for the "ugly duckling."

Stay out of the sun, wear sunblock year round, avoid tanning beds and check your skin frequently. In this video, Philip Friedlander, MD, an oncologist at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, shares his tips for preventing melanoma.

 
Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery

Having professional skin examinations by a Board Certified dermatologist annually for people over 40 may save your life. Immediate treatment upon diagnosis is vital. Prevention of skin cancer by limiting sunlight exposure is key. Avoidance of ultraviolet light between the hours of 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon is important. Also, always apply sunscreens with SPF of 15 or greater. Always apply to all exposed areas including face, ears, nose, and extremities. Recently, evidence supports avoiding tanning beds, salons, and sun lamps is useful as well.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent melanoma. Because melanoma is related to sun exposure, you should limit the time you spend in the sun, especially during its strongest hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you can't avoid sun exposure, make sure you wear sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. It's also a good idea to protect skin by wearing a hat and clothing that covers your arms and legs. It's important to avoid tanning beds, since they're a concentrated source of UVA rays. Also, make sure to check your skin often - everyone should look out for changes in moles and skin growths on their own body, but people at a high risk for melanoma should see a doctor for frequent skin screenings.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.