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Good sun-protective measures, particularly in the first two decades of life, decrease a person’s chances of developing melanoma.

Avoiding too much sunlight is key to preventing skin cancer. Avoid sun tanning and especially burning, both outdoors and with tanning beds. Keep in mind that even on cloudy or cool days, ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin.

Good sun-protective measures, particularly in the first two decades of life, decrease a person’s chances of developing melanoma. To protect your children, ensure that they take the following precautions:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and adequate clothing when outdoors. Tightly woven, dark coloured clothes provide the best protection.
  • Avoid the sun during peak hours (between 11 am and 2 pm).
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed skin, 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Re-apply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if they are swimming or perspiring. Apply lip balm with sunscreen to the lips, and wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light.
    Sunscreens should be “broad spectrum.” They should protect against UVA and UVB. An SPF of at least 15 is advised. If outside for many hours, or if you are fair skinned, consider using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and reapply often, especially if the skin becomes wet.


There is also evidence to suggest that people who are exposed to various occupational and environmental carcinogens are more likely to develop melanoma. These carcinogens include pesticides, certain chemicals and metals, tar, pitch, coal, arsenic, PCBs and mineral oils. Taking measures to ensure that your home, neighbourhood and workplace are free of these cancer-causing materials is another important way of preventing melanoma.

Early Detection

When melanoma is found early, it is usually much easier to treat. When melanomas are still in the early, flat stage, almost 99 percent of them can be cured with a simple surgical incision.

Check your skin once a month. This only takes five minutes and has been shown to increase your chances of finding a melanoma early. This self-examination is best done in front of a full-length mirror. A hand-held mirror can be used for areas that are hard to see. Remember to check all areas, including the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, between your toes, your back, the backs of your legs, neck and ears, the sides of your body, your genitals, face and scalp. In men, melanomas are most common on the back. In women, they are most often found on the calves and the back.

Signs of melanomaSigns of melanoma include:

  • a brown flat spot that spreads along the surface of the skin
  • a brown spot with a jagged outline (these spots are not round)
  • a brown spot that contains a mixture of other colours, such as red, white, grey and black
  • a spot that changes shape, colour, size or surface
  • a constantly itchy mole
  • a mole that is greater than six millimetres in diameter (bigger than a pencil eraser)
    A mole which is bigger than a pencil eraser and has not been present since birth is a worrisome mole.
  • a new flat mole that appears after age 40
  • a sore that doesn’t heal



Moles usually appear during early childhood and increase in number through the childhood and teenage years. Most moles are flat in the beginning but they “mature” with age, elevating and losing some of their colour. Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape and colour for many years. Moles can eventually fade away as you grow older.

Generally, normal moles are:

  • evenly coloured brown, tan or black spots
  • flat or raised
  • round or oval
  • less than 6 mm in diameter (about the width of a pencil eraser)


Having many atypical (or dysplastic) moles increases your risk of developing melanoma. Signs of dysplastic moles include:

  • a mix of brown colours
  • a smudged border
  • a diameter greater than 6 mm



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Melanoma Skin Cancer

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital