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Cancer of the Month

 

March is Cancer Awareness Month for: Colon Cancer, Kidney Cancer and Multiple Myeloma Cancer

*The information included here is not intended as medical or legal advice, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or other license health care provider. Patients with health care-related questions should call or see their physician or other health care provider promptly. 

 

What Are Adult Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors?

Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that have grown out of control.

In most other parts of the body, it is very important to distinguish between benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors. Benign tumors do not grow into nearby tissues or spread to distant areas, so in other parts of the body they are almost never life threatening. One of the main reasons malignant tumors are so dangerous is because they can spread throughout the body.

Although brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body, most of them can spread through the brain tissue. Even so-called benign tumors can, as they grow, press on and destroy normal brain tissue, causing damage that is often disabling and sometimes fatal. For this reason, doctors usually speak of “brain tumors” rather than “brain cancers.” The main concerns with brain and spinal cord tumors are how readily they spread through the rest of the brain or spinal cord and whether they can be removed and not come back.

Types of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

Tumors that start in the brain (primary brain tumors) are not the same as tumors that start in other organs, such as the lung or breast, and then spread to the brain (metastatic or secondary brain tumors). In adults, metastatic tumors to the brain are actually more common than primary brain tumors. These tumors are not treated the same way. For example, breast or lung cancers that spread to the brain are treated differently from tumors that start in the brain.

Unlike cancers that start in other parts of the body, tumors that start in the brain or spinal cord rarely spread to distant organs. Even so, tumors of the brain or spinal cord are rarely considered benign (non-cancerous). They can still cause damage by growing and spreading into nearby areas, where they can destroy normal brain tissue. And unless they are completely removed or destroyed, most brain or spinal cord tumors will continue to grow and eventually be life-threatening.

Primary brain tumors can start in almost any type of tissue or cell in the brain or spinal cord. Some tumors have a mixture of cell types. Tumors in different areas of the central nervous system may be treated differently and have a different prognosis (outlook).

Gliomas

Gliomas are not a specific type of brain tumor. Glioma is a general term for a group of tumors that start in glial cells. A number of tumors can be considered gliomas, including glioblastoma (also known as glioblastoma multiforme), astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, and ependymomas. About 3 out of 10 of all brain tumors are gliomas. Most fast-growing brain tumors are gliomas.

Astrocytomas

Astrocytomas are tumors that start in glial cells called astrocytes. About 2 out of 10 brain tumors are astrocytomas.

Most astrocytomas can spread widely throughout the brain and blend with the normal brain tissue, which can make them very hard to remove by surgery. Sometimes they spread along the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pathways. It is very rare for them to spread outside of the brain or spinal cord.

Astrocytomas are often classified as high grade, intermediate grade, or low grade, based largely on how the cells look under the microscope.

  • High grade astrocytomas, known as glioblastomas (or glioblastoma multiforme), are the fastest growing. These tumors make up about two-thirds of astrocytomas and are the most common malignant brain tumors in adults.
  • Intermediate-grade astrocytomas, or anaplastic astrocytomas, grow at a moderate rate.
  • Low-grade (diffuse) astrocytomas tend to be slow growing, but they can become more aggressive and fast growing over time.
  • Some low-grade types called non-infiltrating astrocytomas do not usually grow into nearby tissues and tend to have a good prognosis. These include pilocytic astrocytomas and dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors (DNETs). They are more common in children than in adults.

Oligodendrogliomas

These tumors start in brain glial cells called oligodendrocytes. These tumors tend to grow slowly, but like astrocytomas, most of them can grow into (infiltrate) nearby brain tissue and cannot be removed completely by surgery. Oligodendrogliomas sometimes spread along the CSF pathways but rarely spread outside the brain or spinal cord. As with astrocytomas, they can become more aggressive over time. Very aggressive forms of these tumors are known as anaplastic oligodendrogliomas. Only about 2% of brain tumors are oligodendrogliomas.

Ependymomas

These tumors arise from ependymal cells, which line the ventricles. They can range from fairly low-grade (less aggressive) tumors to higher grade ones, which are called anaplastic ependymomas. Only about 2% of brain tumors are ependymomas.

Ependymomas are more likely to spread along the CSF pathways than other gliomas but do not spread outside the brain or spinal cord. Ependymomas may block the exit of CSF from the ventricles, causing the ventricles to become very large – a condition called hydrocephalus.

Unlike astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas usually do not grow into normal brain tissue. As a result, some (but not all) ependymomas can be removed completely and cured by surgery. But because they can spread along ependymal surfaces and CSF pathways, treating them can sometimes be difficult. Spinal cord ependymomas have the greatest chance of being cured with surgery, but treatment can cause side effects related to nerve damage.

Mixed gliomas

These tumors contain more than one cell type. For example, oligoastrocytomas have some of the same types of cells as both oligodendrogliomas and astrocytomas. Treatment is typically based on the fastest growing component of the tumor.

Meningiomas

Meningiomas begin in the meninges, the layers of tissue that surround the outer part of the brain and spinal cord. Meningiomas account for about 1 out of 3 primary brain and spinal cord tumors. They are the most common brain tumors in adults (although strictly speaking, they are not actually brain tumors).

The risk of these tumors increases with age. They occur about twice as often in women. Sometimes these tumors run in families, especially in those with neurofibromatosis, a syndrome in which people develop many benign tumors of nerve tissue.

Meningiomas are often assigned a grade, based on how the cells look under the microscope.

  • Grade I (benign) tumors have cells that look the most like normal cells. They make up about 80% of meningiomas. Most of these can be cured by surgery, but some grow very close to vital structures in the brain or cranial nerves and cannot be cured by surgery alone.
  • Grade II (atypical or invasive) meningiomas usually have cells that look slightly more abnormal. About 15% to 20% of meningiomas are grade II. They can grow directly into nearby brain tissue and bone and are more likely to come back (recur) after surgery.
  • Grade III (anaplastic) meningiomas have cells that look the most abnormal. They make up only about 1% to 3% of meningiomas. They tend to grow quickly, can grow into nearby brain tissue and bone, and are the most likely to come back after treatment. Some may even spread to other parts of the body.

Medulloblastomas

Medulloblastomas develop from neuroectodermal cells (primitive nerve cells) in the cerebellum. They are fast-growing tumors and often spread throughout the CSF pathways, but they can be treated by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Medulloblastomas occur much more often in children than in adults. They are part of a class of tumors called primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) that can also start in other parts of the central nervous system.

Gangliogliomas

Gangliogliomas contain both neurons and glial cells. These tumors are very uncommon in adults and can usually be cured by surgery alone or surgery combined with radiation therapy.

Schwannomas (neurilemmomas)

Schwannomas develop from Schwann cells, which surround and insulate cranial nerves and other nerves. They make up about 8% of all CNS tumors.

Schwannomas are almost always benign tumors. They can arise from any cranial nerve. When they form on the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance near the cerebellum they are called vestibular schwannomas or acoustic neuromas. They can also start on spinal nerves after the point where they have left the spinal cord. When this happens, they can press on the spinal cord, causing weakness, sensory loss, and bowel and bladder problems.

Craniopharyngiomas

These slow-growing tumors start above the pituitary gland but below the brain itself. They may press on the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, causing hormone problems. Because they start very close to the optic nerves, they can also cause vision problems. Their tendency to stick to these important structures can make them hard to remove completely without damaging vision or hormone balance. Craniopharyngiomas are more common in children, but they are sometimes seen in adults.

Other tumors that can start in or near the brain

Chordomas

These rare tumors start in the bone at the base of the skull or at the lower end of the spine. Chordomas don’t start in the central nervous system, but they can injure the nearby brain or spinal cord by pressing on it.

These tumors are treated with surgery if possible, often followed by radiation therapy, but they tend to come back in the same area after treatment, causing more damage. They usually do not spread to other organs. For more information on chordomas, see Bone Cancer.

Non-Hodgkin lymphomas

Lymphomas are cancers that start in cells called lymphocytes (one of the main cell types of the immune system). Most lymphomas start in other parts of the body, but some may start in the CNS. These lymphomas are more common in people with immune system problems, such as those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Because of new treatments for AIDS, CNS lymphomas have become less common in recent years.

These lymphomas often grow quickly and can be hard to treat. Recent advances in chemotherapy, however, have improved the outlook for people with these cancers. 

Pituitary tumors

Tumors that start in the pituitary gland are almost always benign (non-cancerous). But they can still cause problems if they grow large enough to press on nearby structures or if they make too much of any kind of hormone.

What Are the Key Statistics About Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors?

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for brain and spinal cord tumors in the United States for 2017 include both adults and children.

  • About 23,800 malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord (13,450 in males and 10,350 in females) will be diagnosed. These numbers would be much higher if benign tumors were also included.
  • About 16,700 people (9,620 males and 7,080 females) will die from brain and spinal cord tumors.

Overall, the chance that a person will develop a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime is less than 1% (about 1 in 140 for a man and 1 in 180 for a woman).

Survival rates for brain and spinal cord tumors vary widely, depending on the type of tumor.

What Are the Risk Factors for Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as a brain or spinal cord tumor. Different types of cancer have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, you can change. Others, like your age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not always mean that a person will get the disease, and many people get tumors without having any known risk factors. Even if a person has a risk factor, it is often very hard to know how much it contributed to the tumor.

Most brain tumors are not linked with any known risk factors and have no obvious cause. But there are a few factors that can raise the risk of brain tumors.

Radiation exposure

The best known environmental risk factor for brain tumors is radiation exposure, most often from radiation therapy to treat some other condition. For example, before the risks of radiation were known, children with ringworm of the scalp (a fungal infection) were sometimes treated with low-dose radiation therapy, which was later found to increase their risk of brain tumors as they got older.

Today, most radiation-induced brain tumors are caused by radiation to the head given to treat other cancers. They occur most often in people who received radiation to the brain as children as part of their treatment for leukemia. These brain tumors usually develop around 10 to 15 years after the radiation.

Radiation-induced tumors are still fairly rare, but because of the increased risk (as well as the other side effects), radiation therapy to the head is only given after carefully weighing the possible benefits and risks. For most patients with other cancers involving the brain or head, the benefits of radiation therapy far outweigh the risk of developing a brain tumor years later.

The possible risk from exposure to imaging tests that use radiation, such as x-rays or CT scans, is not known for sure. These tests use much lower levels of radiation than those used in radiation treatments, so if there is any increase in risk, it is likely to be very small. But to be safe, most doctors recommend that people (especially children and pregnant women) not get these tests unless they are clearly needed.

Family history

Most people with brain tumors do not have a family history of the disease, but in rare cases brain and spinal cord cancers run in families. In general, patients with familial cancer syndromes tend to have many tumors that first occur when they are young. Some of these families have well-defined disorders, such as:

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)

This genetic disorder, also known as von Recklinghausen disease, is the most common syndrome linked to brain or spinal cord tumors. People with this condition have higher risks of schwannomas, meningiomas, and certain types of gliomas, as well as neurofibromas (benign tumors of peripheral nerves). Changes in the NF1 gene cause this disorder. These changes are inherited from a parent in about half of all cases. In the other half, the NF1 gene changes occur before birth in people whose parents did not have this condition.

Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2)

This condition, which is much less common than NF1, is associated with vestibular schwannomas (acoustic neuromas), which almost always occur on both sides of the head. It is also linked with an increased risk of meningiomas or spinal cord ependymomas. Changes in the NF2 gene are responsible for neurofibromatosis type 2. Like NF1, the gene changes are inherited in about half of cases or may occur before birth in children without a family history.

Tuberous sclerosis

People with this condition may have subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGAs), which are low-grade astrocytomas that develop beneath the ependymal cells of the ventricles). They may also have other benign tumors of the brain, skin, heart, kidneys, and other organs. This condition is caused by changes in either the TSC1 or the TSC2 gene. These gene changes can be inherited from a parent, but most often they develop in people without a family history.

Von Hippel-Lindau disease

People with this condition tend to develop benign or cancerous tumors in different parts of the body, including hemangioblastomas (blood vessel tumors) in the brain, spinal cord, or retina, as well as tumors of the inner ear, kidney, adrenal gland, and pancreas. It is caused by changes in the VHL gene. Most often the gene changes are inherited, but in some cases the changes happen before birth in people whose parents don’t have them.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

People with this condition are at higher risk for developing gliomas, along with breast cancer, soft tissue sarcomas, leukemia, and adrenal gland cancer, and certain other types of cancer. It is caused by changes in the TP53 gene.

Other syndromes

Other inherited conditions are also linked with increased risks of certain types of brain and spinal cord tumors, including:

  • Gorlin syndrome (basal cell nevus syndrome)
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Cowden syndrome

Some families may have genetic disorders that are not well recognized or that may even be unique to a particular family.

Immune system disorders

People with impaired immune systems have an increased risk of developing lymphomas of the brain or spinal cord (known as primary CNS lymphomas). Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights disease. Primary CNS lymphoma is less common than lymphoma that develops outside the brain.

A weakened immune system can be congenital (present at birth), or it can be caused by treatments for other cancers, treatment to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, or diseases such as  acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Factors with uncertain, controversial, or unproven effects on brain tumor risk

Cell phone use

This has been the subject of a great deal of debate in recent years. Cell phones give off radiofrequency (RF) rays, a form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and those used in microwave ovens, radar, and satellite stations. Cell phones do not give off ionizing radiation, the type that can cause cancer by damaging the DNA inside cells. Still, there have been concerns that the phones, whose antennae are built-in and therefore are placed close to the head when being used, might somehow raise the risk of brain tumors.

Some studies have suggested a possible increased risk of brain tumors or of vestibular schwannomas with cell phone use, but most of the larger studies done so far have not found an increased risk, either overall or among specific types of tumors. Still, there are very few studies of long-term use (10 years or more), and cell phones haven’t been around long enough to determine the possible risks of lifetime use. The same is true of any possible higher risks in children, who are increasingly using cell phones. Cell phone technology also continues to change, and it’s not clear how this might affect any risk.

These risks are being studied, but it will probably be many years before firm conclusions can be made. In the meantime, for people concerned about the possible risks, there are ways to lower your exposure, such as using an earpiece to move the phone itself away from the head. 

Other factors

Other environmental factors such as exposure to vinyl chloride (a chemical used to manufacture plastics), petroleum products, and certain other chemicals have been linked with an increased risk of brain tumors in some studies but not in others.

Exposure to aspartame (a sugar substitute), exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines and transformers, and infection with certain viruses have been suggested as possible risk factors, but most researchers agree that there is no convincing evidence to link these factors to brain tumors. Research on these and other potential risk factors continues.

What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can then spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in a certain type of skin cell.

illustration showing cross section of the skin including location of sweat gland, blood vessel, hair follicle, lymph vessel, epidermis, dermis and subcutis with details of the epidermis showing a squamous cell, melanocyte and basal cell

Types of skin cells

The 3 main types of cells in the top layer of the skin (called the epidermis) are:

  • Squamous cells: These are flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis that are constantly shed as new ones form.
  • Basal cells: These cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. These cells constantly divide to form new cells to replace the squamous cells that wear off the skin’s surface. As these cells move up in the epidermis, they get flatter, eventually becoming squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes: These are the cells that can become melanoma. They make a brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown color. Melanin protects the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. For most people, when skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more of the pigment, causing the skin to tan or darken.

Melanoma skin cancers

Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes. Other names for this cancer include malignant melanoma and cutaneous melanoma. Most melanoma cells still make melanin, so melanoma tumors are usually brown or black. But some melanomas do not make melanin and can appear pink, tan, or even white.

Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but they are more likely to start on the trunk (chest and back) in men and on the legs in women. The neck and face are other common sites.

Having darkly pigmented skin lowers your risk of melanoma at these more common sites, but anyone can get melanoma on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails. Melanomas in these areas make up a much larger portion of melanomas in African Americans than in whites.

Melanomas can also form in other parts of your body such as the eyes, mouth, genitals, and anal area, but these are much less common than melanoma of the skin.

Melanoma is much less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. But melanoma is more dangerous because it’s much more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught early.

Other skin cancers

There are many other types of skin cancer. Skin cancers that are not melanomas are sometimes grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers because they develop from skin cells other than melanocytes. They tend to behave very differently from melanomas and are often treated with different methods.

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers

Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are by far the most common skin cancers, and actually are more common than any other form of cancer. Because they rarely spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are usually less concerning and are treated differently from melanoma. These cancers are discussed in Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer.

Less common skin cancers

Other types of non-melanoma skin cancer are much less common than basal and squamous cell cancers and are treated differently. They include:

  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Kaposi sarcoma
  • Cutaneous (skin) lymphoma
  • Skin adnexal tumors (tumors that start in hair follicles or skin glands)
  • Various types of sarcomas

Together, these types account for less than 1% of all skin cancers.

Benign skin tumors

Many types of benign (non-cancerous) tumors can develop from different types of skin cells.

Benign tumors that start in melanocytes

mole (nevus) is a benign skin tumor that develops from melanocytes. Almost everyone has some moles. Nearly all moles (nevi) are harmless, but having some types can raise your risk of melanoma. 

Spitz nevus is a kind of mole that sometimes looks like melanoma. It’s more common in children and teens, but it can also be seen in adults. These tumors are generally benign and don’t spread. But sometimes doctors have trouble telling Spitz nevi from true melanomas, even when looking at them under a microscope. Therefore, they are often removed, just to be safe.

Benign tumors that develop from other types of skin cells

  • Seborrheic keratoses: tan, brown, or black raised spots with a “waxy” texture
  • Hemangiomas: benign blood vessel growths, often called strawberry spots
  • Lipomas: soft growths made up of fat cells
  • Warts: rough-surfaced growths caused by some types of human papilloma virus (HPV)

Most of these tumors rarely, if ever, turn into cancers. There are many other kinds of benign skin tumors, but most are not very common.

Risk Factors for Melanoma Skin Cancer

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking and excess sun exposure, can be changed. Others, like your age or family history, can’t be changed.

Having a risk factor, or even many risk factors, does not mean that you will get melanoma. Many people with risk factors never get melanoma, while others with this disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Still, it’s important to know about the risk factors for melanoma because there may be things you can do to lower your risk of getting it. If you are at higher risk because of certain factors, there are also things you can do that might help find it early, when it’s likely to be easier to treat.

Several risk factors can make a person more likely to develop melanoma.

Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is a major risk factor for most melanomas. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning beds and sun lamps are also sources of UV rays.

While UV rays make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, they are the main cause of the damaging effects of the sun on the skin. UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells. Skin cancers begin when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth.

The nature of the UV exposure may play a role in melanoma development. For example, melanoma on the trunk (chest and back) and legs has been linked to frequent sunburns (especially in childhood). This might also have something to do with the fact that these areas are not constantly exposed to UV light. Some experts think that melanomas that start in these areas are different from those on the face, neck, and arms, where the sun exposure is more constant. And different from either of these are melanomas on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under the nails, or on internal surfaces such as the mouth and vagina, where there has been little or no sun exposure.

To learn more about the effects of UV rays on the skin and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, see Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Moles

A mole (also known as a nevus) is a benign (non-cancerous) pigmented tumor. Babies are not usually born with moles; they often begin to appear in children and young adults. Most moles will never cause any problems, but someone who has many moles is more likely to develop melanoma.

Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi): These moles look a little like normal moles but also have some features of melanoma. They are often larger than other moles and have an abnormal shape or color. (See Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer for descriptions of how moles and melanomas look.) They can appear on skin that is exposed to the sun as well as skin that is usually covered, such as on the buttocks or scalp.

Dysplastic nevi often run in families. A small percentage of dysplastic nevi may develop into melanomas. But most dysplastic nevi never become cancer, and many melanomas seem to arise without a pre-existing dysplastic nevus.

Dysplastic nevus syndrome (also known as familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, or FAMMM): People with this inherited condition have many dysplastic nevi and at least one close relative who has had melanoma.

People with this condition have a very high lifetime risk of melanoma, so they need to have very thorough, regular skin exams by a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin problems). Sometimes full body photos are taken to help the doctor recognize if moles are changing and growing. Many doctors recommend that these patients be taught to do monthly skin self-exams as well.

Congenital melanocytic nevi: Moles present at birth are called congenital melanocytic nevi. The lifetime risk of melanoma developing in congenital melanocytic nevi is estimated to be between 0 and 10%, depending on the size of the nevus. People with very large congenital nevi have a higher risk, while the risk is lower for those with small nevi. For example, the risk for melanoma in congenital nevi smaller than the palm of your hand is very low, while those that cover large portions of back and buttocks (“bathing trunk nevi”) have significantly higher risks.

Congenital nevi are sometimes removed by surgery so that they don’t have a chance to become cancer. Whether doctors advise removing a congenital nevus depends on several factors including its size, location, and color. Many doctors recommend that congenital nevi that are not removed should be examined regularly by a dermatologist and that the patient should be taught how to do monthly skin self-exams.

Again, the chance of any single mole turning into cancer is very low. However, anyone with lots of irregular or large moles has an increased risk for melanoma.

Fair skin, freckling, and light hair

The risk of melanoma is much higher for whites than for African Americans. Whites with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk.

Family history of melanoma

Your risk of melanoma is higher if one or more of your first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) has had melanoma. Around 10% of all people with melanoma have a family history of the disease.

The increased risk might be because of a shared family lifestyle of frequent sun exposure, a family tendency to have fair skin, certain gene changes (mutations) that run in a family, or a combination of factors.

Most experts don’t recommend that people with a family history of melanoma have genetic testing to look for mutations, as it’s not yet clear how helpful this is. Rather, experts advise that they do the following:

  • Have regular skin exams by a dermatologist
  • Thoroughly examine their own skin once a month
  • Be particularly careful about sun protection and avoiding artificial UV rays (such as those from tanning booths)

Personal history of melanoma or other skin cancers

A person who has already had melanoma has a higher risk of getting melanoma again. People who have had basal or squamous cell skin cancers are also at increased risk of getting melanoma.

Having a weakened immune system

A person’s immune system helps fight cancers of the skin and other organs. People with weakened immune systems (from certain diseases or medical treatments) are more likely to develop many types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

For example, people who get organ transplants are usually given medicines that weaken their immune system to help prevent them from rejecting the new organ. This increases their risk of melanoma.

People infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often have weakened immune systems and are also at increased risk for melanoma.

Being older

Melanoma is more likely to occur in older people, but it is also found in younger people. In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 (especially younger women). Melanoma that runs in families may occur at a younger age.

Being male

In the United States, men have a higher rate of melanoma than women, although this varies by age. Before age 50, the risk is higher for women; after age 50 the risk is higher in men.

Xeroderma pigmentosum

Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is a rare, inherited condition that affects skin cells’ ability to repair damage to their DNA. People with XP have a high risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers when they are young, especially on sun-exposed areas of their skin.

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