Dear 16-Year Old Me

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.

Melanoma is a malignant skin tumor that involves the skin cells that produce pigment and melanin.

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds increases your risk of developing melanoma.
  • Because melanoma can spread to other parts of the body it is critical that it be identified as early as possible.
  • Melanoma is often curable if detected and treated in its early stages.
  • Melanoma is the number one cancer of women under 35.
  • On a per-case basis, Colorado has one of the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the country.
  • Melanoma is on the rise. The rates of melanoma have been rising rapidly over the past few decades.


The chance of developing melanoma increases with age.
By protecting the skin during the first 18 years the risk of skin cancer can be reduced by 78%.

Things you can do to help prevent melanoma.

  • Early detection is crucial.
    • When detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is over 90%. If you notice any changes in your skin or moles, see a dermatologist promptly.
    • Schedule regular skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist.
    • Perform monthly self-examinations of your skin. Learn the ABCDE rule (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolving) to evaluate moles.
    • Remember, melanoma can occur in all skin types and in areas not typically exposed to sun. During screenings, insist on having your whole body checked, including your scalp, the soles of your feet, and between your toes.
    • For assistance finding a dermatologist, visit the American Academy of Dermatology website ( Some hospitals and clinics also offer free screenings.
  • Protect yourself when possible and appropriate.
    • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to all exposed skin daily. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
    • Protect your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses and shield your face with a wide-brimmed hat.
    • Wear protective clothing when possible, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
    • Limit outdoor activities or seek shade especially between 10 am and 3 pm when UV rays are strongest.
    • Avoid tanning beds completely. They significantly increase your risk of melanoma.
  • Be aware that certain medications can increase sun sensitivity. Consult your healthcare provider about any medications you're taking.
  • If you have a family history of melanoma, discuss genetic testing with your healthcare provider to assess your risk.
  • Encourage friends, family, and coworkers to practice sun safety and get regular skin checks. Melanoma can affect anyone, regardless of skin type.

What To Look For

Follow your ABCDE's to check for melanoma

A is for Asymmetry

One half of the mole or lesion might not match the other.

B is for Border

The borders or edges could appear to be ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular.

C is for Color

The spot might having varying and/or uneven colors with black, brown, tan, pink, white, red, grey, and blue shades.

D is for Diameter

While melanomas are usually about the size of a pencil eraser (6 millimeters) in diameter, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

E is for Evolving

The spot can appear to be evolving from the rest or seems to be changing size, shape, or color.

Online Resources

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer. They have lots of educational resources to learn more about melanoma and the latest research regarding melanoma.

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic world-renowned nonprofit American medical center focused on care, education, and research. Detailed information on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma can be found here.

National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) coordinates the United States National Cancer Program and is part of the National Institues of Health (NIH). It is the oldest and largest budget research program of the NIH and has lots of great resources as well.