Nov 15, 2000 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

How to Prevent Melanoma

Am Fam Physician. 2000 Nov 15;62(10):2285.

See related article on prevention and early detection of melanoma.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer. It is sometimes called malignant melanoma. Melanoma is becoming more common every year. This is a very serious kind of skin cancer that can cause death. If this cancer is caught early, when it is very small, it can be cured. A melanoma can grow in a mole that you have had for years. Or it can grow in a spot that never had a mole before.

What does melanoma look like?

Melanomas can have many different looks and can occur anyplace on the body. It is important to see your doctor if you get a new mole or if you have a mole that is changing in the way it looks.

A melanoma is usually irregular in shape, with blurry edges. One melanoma may have many different colors in it, like black, brown or tan. A melanoma can be flat or raised. Your doctor may not be able to tell if a mole is a melanoma just by looking at it. Your doctor may have to do a biopsy to find out for sure if a mole is a melanoma. To do a biopsy, your doctor cuts out the mole and sends it to a lab to be looked at under a microscope.

How can I keep from getting melanoma?

The most important way to prevent melanoma is to limit your sun exposure. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Avoid the strong midday sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

  • When you are outside, try to spend your time in shaded areas.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat (to shade your face and protect your ears).

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants while out in the sun.

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. SPF means “sun protection factor.” Put the sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go outside. Put it on again every 2 to 3 hours and after sweating and swimming.

  • Do not use sunbeds or tanning salons.

  • If you are worried about a spot on your skin, tell your doctor about it.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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