Important factors which are responsible for the development of malignant melanoma are strong exposure to UV radiation having recurring sunburns or overall frequent sunbathing and genetic (hereditary) predisposition. The exposure to UV rays can damage the genetic material ( DNA ) of melanocytes. Most of these damaged cells die or be repaired. However, the DNA damage is not completely repaired in some cells and later these cells lead to development of tumor. Excessive exposure to UV radiation weakens the immune system which is important for the defense of malignant cells.
The risk factors that favor the development of malignant melanoma, can be distinguished in internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors. The rising incidence figures in the last three decades are attributed primarily to changes in leisure habits and the increased life expectancy.
Endogenous risk factor
An endogenous risk factor is a high number of birthmarks or moles. In addition, a hereditary or genetic predisposition (affected parents) is an important risk factor. The skin type is also important endogenous risk factor. People who have pale skin, easily get a sunburn, the formation of freckles, blonde or red hair and blue or have green eyes have an increased risk of developing a malignant melanoma.
Exogenous risk factors
The most important exogenous risk factors is long term exposure to strong UV radiations that is frequent and long stays in strong sunlight or on a sunbed (solarium). In particular, recurring sunburns before the age of 15 increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma. In particular, this Infants and children are at risk up to 12 years. The avoidance of the sun in the time of the most intense radiation (11-15 hours) and a sufficient sun protection are therefore the most important preventive measures.
Another risk factor for development of black skin cancer is weakend immune system (e.g. by infections such as HIV, or by drugs which is used after transplant).
The rare disorder Xeroderma Pigmentosum which is also known as Moonlight disease is also an important risk factor. Patients suffering from this disease have a 1,000-fold increased risk of developing skin cancer (including melanoma).
Currently the link between Parkinson’s disease and the development of malignant melanoma is discussed.
Risk of malignant melanoma is higher in those peoples:
- Who have very light skin color and blond or reddish hair
- if skin cancer has already occurred in family
- who had sunburn in their childhood
- Who has weakened immune system (eg by infections such as HIV , or by drugs ).
Early detection is vital
If a malignant melanoma detected early, there is a good chance of recovery. Especially people with one or more risk factors should examine their skin regularly for early detection of skin cancer.