MelanomaMelanoma Causes and Prevention

Let's Talk About Melanoma Causes and Prevention

This form of skin cancer can be life-threatening, but when caught early, it's 98% treatable. Learn how to protect yourself, and recognize a problematic spot before it takes a dangerous turn.

    Our Pro PanelMelanoma Causes and Prevention

    We asked the nation’s top experts in melanoma for the most up-to-date information possible:

    Ellen Marmur, M.D.

    Ellen Marmur, M.D.Associate Clinical Professor in the Departments of Dermatology and Genomics and Genetic Science

    The Mount Sinai Medical School
    New York, NY
    Mary L. Stevenson, M.D. headshot.

    Mary L. Stevenson, M.D.Assistant Professor of Dermatology

    Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center
    New York City
    Philip Friedlander, M.D.

    Philip Friedlander, M.D.Assistant Professor of Hematology and Oncology

    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    New York, NY

    Frequently Asked QuestionsMelanoma Causes and Prevention

    How common is melanoma?

    Sadly, the numbers keep growing. Melanoma is the second most-common cancer for men ages 20 to 39 (testicular cancer holds the number-one spot) and the third for women in the same age bracket, behind lymphoma and breast cancer, respectively. Melanoma is far more common in Caucasians—they’re 27-times more likely to develop the cancer than Hispanics and African Americans.

    Is melanoma more likely to form in an existing mole?

    No, research has shown that the majority of melanomas pop up as new spots. Seventy percent of melanomas are new growths, while close to 30% come from an existing mole.

    Is an atypical mole cancerous?

    No, but it can turn into cancer and if you have more than 10 of them, the risk of developing melanoma is 12 times greater than someone without atypical moles. An atypical mole is one that looks unusual—it stands out from the rest. It also looks highly irregular under a microscope. A dermatopathologist will grade atypical moles as mild, moderate, or severely atypical. Severely atypical moles (and sometimes even moderate ones) are often removed with a margin of skin since they’re at an even higher risk for turning cancerous down the road.

    What are the stages of melanoma?

    There’s a lot that goes into staging, including tumor thickness, whether it’s ulcerated (with broken skin similar to a wound), and where it has spread to. And within each stage, there are multiple sub-stages. In simplest terms, stage 0 is melanoma in situ, when the tumor is contained to the top layer of skin. With Stage I, the tumor is no more than 2 mm and hasn’t spread anywhere beyond the skin. In Stage II, the tumor can be anywhere from 1 mm to over 4 mm, but it hasn’t spread to lymph nodes. In stage III, the tumor has spread to nearby lymph nodes, or areas of the skin near the primary tumor, also known as satellite tumors. With Stage IV, your tumor can be any thickness and has spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs, most commonly the brain, liver, bones, or lungs.

    Krista Bennett DeMaio

    Krista Bennett DeMaio


    Krista Bennett DeMaio is a health and beauty writer living in Huntington, NY with her husband and three daughters.