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Between 1 April 1979 and 31 March 1981, 904 residents of the four western provinces of Canada (population 6.5 million), were diagnosed as suffering from primary cutaneous malignant melanoma. Of 801 patients aged 20-79 years, 665 (83%) were interviewed along with control subjects chosen at random from the general population and matched for age, sex, and province. After exclusion of 70 subjects with lentigo maligna or acral lentiginous melanoma, comparisons of the 595 case-control pairs showed that light hair, skin, and eye colour, a history of heavy freckling in adolescence, and a tendency to burn readily and tan poorly in the sun were significant risk factors for melanoma. The strongest primary associations were with blond hair (relative risk 7.1 compared with black hair), light colour of unexposed skin (relative risk 2.4), and severe freckling (relative risk 2.1). These associations were independent of ethnic origin and of recorded amount of exposure to the sun and were somewhat stronger for superficial spreading than for nodular melanoma. This study is the largest and most detailed of an incident series of melanomas to be published to date. The results were consistent with other studies reporting associations between melanoma and poor tanning ability, a tendency to burn easily, and a history of sunburn and showed that light hair colour was the strongest risk factor for the disease.