Understand Melanoma

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancer that starts in the DNA of melanocytes; the cells responsible for your hair and skin’s colour. When their DNA is damaged, it causes the cells to grow uncontrollably leading to a malignant tumour.

The damage can be inherited through genetic mutations, but it’s often accumulated over time as a result of environmental factors like UV radiation.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) from the sun and sunbeds plays a leading role in the development of melanoma and is the most preventable cause of this disease. Experts estimate about 90% of melanomas are associated with severe UV exposure and sunburns over a lifetime.

You can learn more about the basics of melanoma here, or scroll to the bottom of the page for other suggested reading.

Why It Matters

The lifetime risk of melanoma for Canadian men is now 1 in 74. For Canadian women, it’s 1 in 90. In comparison, the lifetime risk of melanoma for Americans in 1930 was 1 in 1500.

Melanoma is one of a handful of cancers where the incidence in Canadians continues to increase.

The death rate for men with melanoma continues to rise.

Up to 70% of all melanomas are first identified by the patient themselves or close family members.

That’s why it’s so important for you to check your skin and watch for any signs that this cancer might be developing.

What To Watch For

Follow what dermatologists call the Ugly Duckling Rule – if you notice a mole or skin lesion that looks out of place or feels different from the others, get some medical advice.

If you’re going to be checking your moles regularly to keep an eye on them (which we hope you are) there are several common kinds of changes that are often associated with the development of melanomas. It’ll be helpful to familiarize yourself with the ABCDEs of Melanoma, so that you know what changes should definitely sound the alarm

How To Watch

Checking your own moles is simple and straightforward – just download our How To Check instructions to get started.

Remember, some people are more likely to develop melanoma because of certain risk factors – but anyone can be affected by this disease. People with no risk factors, and those with darker skin, can also get melanoma and should be checking regularly too.


The good news is that you can reduce your risk of melanoma by protecting your skin from UV rays all year round:
• Protect your head with a hat
• Protect your arms, legs and torso with long clothing
• Protect your exposed skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply often
• Protect your eyes with sunglasses
• Protect your whole body under the shade of trees or a large umbrella and reduce your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is most powerful
• Avoid indoor tanning. Using tanning beds and lamps exposes you to UV rays 5 times stronger than the sun and significantly increases your risk of developing melanoma.

Additional Information

For more information or assistance, check out some of these sites:


Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Environment Canada – UV Index
My Skin Check
World Health Organization UV radiation & INTERSUN Programme


Douglas Wright Foundation
Glenna Kohl Fund For Hope
Melanoma Education Foundation
Melanoma Foundation of New England
Melanoma Network of Canada
Melanoma Research Foundation
Melanoma Research Alliance
Sun Smart
Surviving Skin
The Skin Cancer Foundation


Clinical Trials
Canadian Cancer Trials


Adventures with My Enemy Melanoma
Black is the New Pink – Fight Melanoma
Respect the Rays
Jillian’s Journey with Melanoma

We’d love to hear from you about any other links we should consider including. Please email us at contact@dcmf.ca attn: Elyse Sunshine


What you need to know about melanoma and other skin cancers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin. Accessed October 21, 2013

Parkin DM, Mesher D, P Sasieni. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer. 2011; 105:S66-S69.

Canadian Dermatology Association, Skin Hair Nails/Skin/Skin Cancer/Malignant Melanoma http://www.dermatology.ca/skin-hair-nails/skin/skin-cancer/malignant-melanoma Accessed October 21, 2013

Cancer Council Australia, Preventing Skin Cancer http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/preventing-skin-cancer/ Accessed October 21, 2013


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