Reducing Skin Cancer Risk Factors

By reducing skin cancer risks under our control, we may be able to decrease the chances of developing melanoma. For those that can’t be controlled, regular skin examination can increase the chance of catching a developing skin cancer early, when it is most curable.

The primary risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma and non-melanoma cancers, is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, including sunlight and tanning beds. People who live in areas with year-round bright sunlight or those that spend a lot of time outdoors without protective clothing or sunscreen are at greater risk. Early exposure, particularly frequent sunburns as a child, can also increase skin cancer risks. Avoiding direct sunlight and tanning beds is the most important thing we can do. When out in the sun, wear protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Here are some other risk factors.

Older age: Skin cancer risks increase as we age, which is likely due to accumulated exposure to UV radiation.

Weakened immune system: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as immune suppression therapy associated with organ transplantation, may increase skin cancer risks.

Male gender: Men are approximately two times more likely to develop basal cell carcinomas and three times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinomas compared with women.

Fair skin: Caucasians have an increased risk of developing skin cancer than non-whites. The risk is also higher in individuals with blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, or skin that burns or freckles easily.

Moles: Most moles are harmless and will never develop into cancer, but having a large number of moles may increase the risk for developing melanoma.

Skin inflammation: Skin that has been damaged by a severe burn, underlying severe bone infection or severe inflammatory skin disease may be more likely to develop a skin cancer, although this risk is thought to be small.

Family history: Individuals with one or more first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with skin cancer are at increased risk.

Smoking: Smokers are more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancers, particularly on the lips.

Chemical exposure: Arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin and certain types of oil may increase the risk for certain types of non-melanoma skin cancers.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection: Infection with certain types of HPV, particularly those that affect the anal or genital area, may increase skin cancer risks.

Radiation exposure: Treatment with radiation can increase the risk for developing skin cancers in the exposed area.

Psoriasis treatment: A treatment for psoriasis, psoralen and ultraviolet light treatment (PUVA) can increase the risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma.

Courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. For more information visit


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