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Melanoma: Prevention and early detection

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is common in both men and women. Its ability to spread to other parts of the body makes it one of the most dangerous forms of cancer. But, if melanoma is found early, treatment can be very successful. In fact, melanoma is one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer.1,2 

This year about 100,000 people will get melanoma and about 7,000 people will die from the disease.3 Unfortunately, the number of people who get melanoma has been increasing for the past 30 years and is expected to continue increasing.4

What is melanoma?

Melanoma gets its name from skin cells called melanocytes.1 Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin, which gives skin color and protects it from ultraviolet (UV) rays.5 UV rays may come naturally from the sun or artificially from tanning beds. Too much exposure to UV rays can damage skin cells. At first, this can mean getting a sunburn. But over time, getting too much UV exposure can lead to melanoma.5

Who is at risk?

Most of the time, melanoma is diagnosed when a person is around 65 years old.3 But melanoma can happen in people younger than 30 years old.

Anyone of any age, sex, or race can get melanoma, but some people have a higher risk. People who are fair-skinned, spend a lot of time in the sun, and have a lot of moles have a higher risk.1 They tend to get melanoma in places like their neck and back. People with darker skin have a lower risk of getting melanoma. But they are still at risk and can get melanoma in places like their palms, the soles of their feet, and under their nails.1

People who had many sunburns when they were young, use indoor tanning devices, and those with a family member who had melanoma also have a higher risk.3

Reducing your chances of getting melanoma

Because melanoma is caused by exposure to sunlight and artificial UV light, reducing your exposure to these types of light can reduce your chances of getting melanoma.2,6 This is especially important for people who have an increased risk of getting melanoma, like people who are fair-skinned.1

Ways to lower risk of melanoma2,6

  • Don’t spend a lot of time in the midday sun
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arm and legs
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • Avoid indoor tanning booths or beds

How to check yourself

Melanoma can appear as a new mole or as changes in an old mole. So it’s important that you or a loved one check your skin every month by following these guidelines7:

  • Examine the front, back, right, and left sides of your body in the mirror with your arms raised.
  • Bend your elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper arms, and palms.
  • Look at the backs of your legs, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
  • Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Part your hair to get a better look at your scalp.
  • Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

What to look for in a mole: The ABCDEs8

A: Asymmetry

One side is different from the other

B: Border 

The edges are irregular and ragged

C: Color

Varied shares of tan, black, and brown, or areas of white, red, or blue

D: Diameter

Bigger than 6mm (1/4 inch)

E: Evolving

Changes in size, shape, and color

How your healthcare provider can help

Your healthcare provider can see if your risk of getting melanoma is higher than average. They can also explain what you can do to help stop melanoma from happening, such as protecting yourself from the sun, and looking for changes in a mole or skin. If your healthcare provider is concerned that a mole or other area of your skin might be cancer, they may remove a small piece; this is called a “biopsy.” They then send the biopsy to the laboratory for testing. Based on the results, your healthcare provider can decide if further testing or treatment is necessary.

How Dermpath Diagnostics can help

Dermpath Diagnostics, a Quest Diagnostics company, offers tests to see if skin cancer is present. If you have melanoma, Dermpath and Quest also offer other tests that help your doctor decide whether certain drugs might work best for you.

Note: Dermpath and Quest work independently with insurance companies. If you have questions about your health benefits, please contact your health plan and ask which laboratories are part of your provider network.

Additional information

For more information, visit these helpful websites:



  1. What is melanoma skin cancer? American Cancer Society (ACS) website. Updated August 14, 2019. Accessed April 17, 2020.
  2. Skin cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated April 9, 2020. Accessed April 17, 2020.
  3. Key statistics for melanoma skin cancer. ACS website. Updated August 14, 2019. Accessed April 17, 2020.
  4. Johnson MM, Leachman SA, Aspinwall LG, et al. Skin cancer screening: recommendations for data-driven screening guidelines and a review of the US Preventive Services Task Force controversy. Melanoma Manag. 2017;4:13-37.
  5. Leonardi GC, Falzone L, Salemi R, et al. Cutaneous melanoma: from pathogenesis to therapy (Review). Int J Oncol. 2018;52:1071-1080.
  6. How do I protect myself from ultraviolet (UV) rays? American Cancer Society website. Revised July 23, 2019. Accessed April 6, 2020.
  7. Detect skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) website. Accessed April 17, 2020.
  8. What to look for: the ABCDEs of melanoma. AAD website. Accessed April 17, 2020.