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What Is Melanoma?

  • Melanoma is a form of skin cancer
  • It is the least common but most lethal skin cancer
  • It usually arises from a previously-existing mole and may spread to other location
  • UV exposure is believed to be a contributing factor to most cases of melanoma
  • It is currently the fastest-growing cancer worldwide, and the most common cancer in the 20-30 age group


Avoiding skin damage from UV rays is the most important thing we can do. The damage that leads to adult skin cancers starts in childhood and teenage years, as people are likely to receive about 80% of their lifetime sun exposure during the first 18 years of life. What you do today can prevent Melanoma.

Tanning and Burning:

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. There is also no evidence that a foundation of tan prevents subsequent burns or skin cancer.  Tanning and burning are both forms of skin damage caused by overexposure to UV radiation

  • A tan is evidence that your body is trying to defend itself against exposure to harmful UV radiation. The skin attempts to absorb UV rays by producing more melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin. As more melanin accumulates, the skin darkens and tans to try to prevent the skin from burning.
  • Sunburn occurs when your skin cannot produce melanin quickly enough to prevent UV rays from injuring blood vessels close to the skin's surface. The damage to blood vessels causes them to swell, turning skin red. The skin may begin to redden a few minutes after exposure and can worsen over the following 24 - 72 hours.

About Tanning Beds and Sunlamps

An estimated one million North Americans visit tanning salons every day, and the tanning industry earns over one billion dollars per year. One misconception promoted by the indoor tanning industry is that tanning beds give off only the "safe, tanning rays" of UVA radiation. There is no such thing as safe UV radiation. In fact, exposure to the highly concentrated UV rays of tanning beds and sunlamps may be even more dangerous than exposure to the sun and can lead to premature skin aging, the development of cataracts and skin cancers.

What Can I Do?

No cancer, including melanoma, can ever be prevented with 100% certainty. The good news is the risk factors for melanoma are well known, so steps can be taken to dramatically reduce your risk of developing this deadly disease.

  • Always have sunscreen with you so you can apply it whenever an unplanned outdoor activity arises. 
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 whenever you are outdoors (even on grayer days) 
  • Wear protective clothing with long sleeves and wear hats and sunglasses 
  • Check for changes in moles, new moles and see you doctor right away if you see anything suspicious. 
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm 
  • Do not use tanning beds

Sources: National Cancer Institute, Kate’s Foundation, BC Cancer Agency, Health Canada

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