Melanoma refers to a type of skin cancer that starts in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for producing melanin, which gives skin its color and protects the deeper layers of skin cells from the harmful effects of the sun. Melanoma is sometimes referred to as cutaneous melanoma or malignant melanoma.

How Common Is Melanoma?1

1% of all skin cancers

Melanoma makes up 1% of all skin cancers diagnosed in the US. It is much less common than other types of skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell, but is more dangerous. It is more likely to spread to the deeper layers of skin and to other parts of the body.

1 in 63 women

Approximately 1 in 63 women will develop melanoma in their lifetime.

1 in 36 men

Approximately 1 in 36 men will develop melanoma in their lifetime.

How Genetic Mutations Increase Melanoma Risk

Mutations are rare, but when they exist, they significantly increase cancer risk.

Women and melanoma risk

Risk among US women to develop melanoma. 

Men and melanoma risk

Risk among US men to develop melanoma.

Interesting Information2

Melanoma is 20 times more common in Caucasians than in African Americans.

People of certain ethnicities have a higher risk to develop melanoma due to a lower amount of melanin that protects their skin.

Too much sun or tanning can increase risk.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, tanning beds or sun lamps increases melanoma risk.

There are factors that can decrease risk.

Limiting exposure to UV light by avoiding excess sun exposure, wearing a hat, sunglasses and long protective clothing, applying sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher and avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps all reduce the risks of developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

Also, regular exams by a healthcare provider and checking one’s own skin (preferably once a month), can help find skin cancers early. Any new, unusual, or changing moles should be reported to a healthcare provider.

The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma.

Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Useful Resources


  1. SEER Cancer Statistics Factsheets: Female Breast Cancer
    . Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed April 7, 2015. Available at
  2. What are the risk factors for melanoma skin cancer?. American Cancer Society Website. Updated February 01, 2016. Available at