The main risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to UV radiation. This can be through natural sunlight, or through artificial light used in sunbeds or sunlamps. UV radiation damages the DNA (genetic material) in our skin cells. This can cause skin cancers such as melanoma.
In the UK, the number of white people developing melanoma and other skin cancers is steadily rising. One of the reasons for this is increased sun exposure during sunny holidays. Increased screening has also led to a rise in the number of very early and thin melanomas being diagnosed.
It’s important to be aware of the damage that too much sun exposure can cause, and to take steps to protect yourself. However, experts recommend regular exposure to a small amount of sunshine. This helps our bodies make vitamin D, which keeps our bones and teeth healthy. It also helps our immune system and has some anti-cancer effects.
The amount of exposure you need depends on your hair and skin type, the time of year and which part of the world you live in. It’s important not to stay out in the sun for long enough to let your skin redden or burn. Episodes of severe sunburn that cause the skin to blister, especially during childhood, can increase the risk of melanoma in the future.
Sunbeds use artificial UV rays that damage the DNA in your skin. They may increase the risk of melanoma. The more you use a sunbed or lamp, and the earlier in life you begin using them, the greater your risk.
It’s important not to use sunbeds and to take precautions to protect yourself from too much sun exposure. This is especially important if you’ve had a melanoma (or any other type of skin cancer) in the past. It’s also important if you’re at an increased risk of melanoma.