Melanoma etiology: where are we?

Oncogene. 2003 May 19;22(20):3042-52. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1206444.


Melanoma incidence rates are rising rapidly, particularly in older men. Older men are also more likely to have thick melanomas, which confer high mortality and morbidity. The reasons for the rate of increase are not known; increasing sun and UV exposure, however, is the major hypothesized explanation. In the past several years, two major susceptibility genes for melanoma, CDKN2A and CDK4, have been identified, but the two genes together account for a minority of familial melanoma. Other high-risk susceptibility genes are being sought actively. Genetic epidemiologic studies suggest that penetrance of each of the two identified genes is altered by other factors, either genetic or environmental. Epidemiologic studies have also identified other major host factors important in the development of melanoma. In European, North American, and Australian populations, the presence of clinically identified dysplastic nevi confers greatly increased risk of melanoma. A new measure of sun exposure, based on individual residential history, confers substantially increased risk of melanoma. Recent surveys of sun behavior in the US reveal extensive sunburning and use of tanning beds in adolescents and adults. Sun protective behaviors are not as prevalent as in Australia, where population rates of melanoma are stabilizing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / genetics
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Forecasting
  • Genes, p16
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Melanoma / etiology*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • CDK4 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases