What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer

Melanoma usually starts in melanocytes, and can spread to other parts of your body

Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin, which gives colour to your eyes, hair, and skin. Melanoma happens when the melanocytes grow uncontrolled and form a tumour. To learn more about melanoma, visit Save Your Skin.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of melanoma

Melanoma is caused by damage to your skin, mainly from being exposed to UV radiation. You’re exposed to UV radiation through:

  • The sun
  • Artificial UV sources (i.e., tanning beds)

Any kind of skin damage from overexposure to UV radiation can increase your chance of getting melanoma. It’s why it’s important to catch any signs or symptoms of melanoma early by being familiar with your skin and noticing any changes.


There are 2 types of UV radiation from the sun: UVA and UVB rays.


Even on a not-so-sunny day, you are still exposed to UV rays from the sun. Up to 80% of the sun’s rays can make it through clouds, fog, and haze.


Fresh snow reflects even more UV rays than water. You’ll need sun protection (like hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses) on both snowy and beach days.


Tanning beds emit 15 times the amount of UV rays as the sun. Even one session in a tanning bed can raise your chance of getting melanoma.

Melanoma can affect anyone and the number of people being diagnosed is going up

It’s one of the most common cancer types found in people aged 15-49. The incidence of melanoma has increased over the years across all Canadian provinces, with the most number of cases in maritime and southern provinces.

The lifetime risk of melanoma for both men and women have increased in Canada

About 1 in 59 men will get melanoma during their lifetime

Most men get melanoma on their head, neck, and back.

About 1 in 73 women will get melanoma during their lifetime

Women often get melanoma on their back or lower legs.

Aproximately nine thousand

people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2020

Aproximately sixty two percent

of Canadians diagnosed with melanoma in 2015 (4276 cases) were estimated due to overexposure to UV radiation*


most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada is melanoma

*Study estimating skin-related melanoma cases in the Canadian population were attributable to UV radiation and modifiable UV radiation risk behaviours (i.e., sunburn, sunbathing, and indoor tanning).

Illustration showing the places in the body men and women are more likely to get melanoma

Protect your skin

Help protect yourself and your loved ones against melanoma

Certain people may be more at risk of melanoma but everyone still has a chance of getting it. The more familiar you are with your skin, the more likely you’ll be able to detect signs and symptoms of melanoma.

Disclaimers and References:

Photographs of skin used throughout the site do not depict melanoma. Speak to a healthcare practitioner if you are concerned about any of your moles.

  1. Melanoma Canada. Available at: https://www.melanomanetwork.ca/. Last accessed April 14, 2023.

  2. Canadian Cancer Society. Available at: https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/reduce-your-risk/be-sun-safe/enjoy-the-sun-safely. Last accessed April 14, 2023.

  3. Canadian Dermatology Association. Melanoma. Available at: https://dermatology.ca/public-patients/skin/melanoma/. Last accessed April 14, 2023.

  4. Conte et al. Population-Based Study Detailing Cutaneous Melanoma Incidence and Mortality Trends in Canada. Frontiers in medicine. 2022; 9(830254). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2022.830254

  5. O’Sullivan DE et al. Estimates of the current and future burden of melanoma attributable to ultraviolet radiation in Canada. Preventive medicine. 2019;122: 81-90. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.03.012