Melanoma: protecting your skin

By: Jane Langille

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, the outer layer that protects you from injury, infection and ultraviolet light rays from the sun. Learn about melanoma and take steps to protect your skin from developing the deadliest form of skin cancer this summer.

Melanoma fast factsSkin Cancer - Melanoma

  • Melanoma develops when melanin cells, the cells that give your skin its colour, grow out of control and form a malignant tumour. Left untreated, melanoma can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of your body.1
  • Melanomas are often brown and black in appearance but can also be blue, grey or red and can look like a freckle or a new mole. They can take weeks, months or years to develop.2
  •  Melanoma is the least common skin cancer in Canada but it’s the most deadly. The lifetime risk for women is 1 in 90 and for men, it’s 1 in 74.2
  • Severe exposure to ultraviolet radiation and sunburns over a lifetime cause most melanomas. That exposure could be from the sun or excessive use of indoor tanning beds.2
  • When caught early, melanoma has a cure rate of 90 per cent.2

Risk factors

People who are fair-skinned, burn easily in the sun or who have a lot of moles are more likely to develop melanoma. Anyone with a close family history of melanoma or who has a history of severe sunburns or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or sun tanning beds has an elevated risk.

Check your skin for melanoma

Vigilance makes a big difference! People find 53 per cent of melanomas themselves and family members find 17 per cent. For women, the most common location for melanoma to occur is on the legs and for men, it’s on the chest or back.3

Check your skin once a month using this self-exam guide for melanoma skin cancer by the Canadian Dermatology Association. It outlines how and where to examine your skin and shows images of what to look for, the ABCDEs of Melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: a different shape on one side vs. the other
  • Border: an irregular, ragged border
  • Colour: colour variation ranging from brown, black, grey or white across the spot
  • Diameter: usually more than 6 mm but can be smaller
  • Evolution: changes in size, colour, shape or symptoms like itchiness or bleeding

Protect Your Skin

No tan is a good tan. A tan means that exposure to ultraviolet light has damaged your skin. Keep your family sun safe by limiting sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., use wide-brimmed hats and a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.  Look for a sunscreen that is recognized for proven sun protection by the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Sun Protection Program and read more about Sunscreen FAQs.


Want to learn more about what melanoma looks like? Check out this YouTube video to see specific examples:


:1   Canadian Cancer Society: What is melanoma?

2   Canadian Dermatology Association: Skin Cancer>Malignant Melanoma

3   Canadian Cancer Society: Melanoma

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