Skin Cancer Risk Factors: Who's At Risk?
One form of cancer that is on the rise is skin cancer; in fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and affects more than one million individuals each year. While information about skin cancer treatments and skin cancer prevention is now more readily available, there are still many individuals who are at risk of skin cancer, and are unaware of an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma, a potentially deadly form of cancer. Recognizing your risk level for cancer is a crucial step in skin cancer prevention.
Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer
The following skin cancer risk factors put you at an increased risk of developing this form of cancer:
- fair skin. Individuals with less pigment (melanin) in their skin have less protection against the sun's harmful rays. This means that individuals with blond or red hair and light colored eyes are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Individuals who freckle or burn easily are also at an increased risk than individuals with a darker complexion and eye color.
- moles. Having abnormal moles (known as dysplastic nevi) puts individuals at a greater risk of developing skin cancers. That is because these large and irregularly shaped moles are more likely than regular moles to be cancerous. If you have a history of abnormal moles, be sure to monitor them regularly and report any changes to your health care provider immediately.
- history of sunburns. A sunburn is your body's way of repairing damaged skin. Each sunburn that you have results in skin cell damage and increases the chance of skin cancer. If you had one or more serious sunburns as a child or teenager, your risk of developing cancer as an adult increases. Having a sunburn as an adult also increases your risk.
- fragile skin. Having skin that has been burned, injured or that is weak also increases your risk of skin cancer. Some eczema creams and psoriasis treatments, for example, can lead to skin damage, which in turn may lead to the development of skin cancer.
- prolonged sun exposure. Spending too much time in the sun, particularly during the sun's peak hours (10 am to 4 pm) and when not wearing sunscreen, protective clothing or sunglasses, increases your risk of skin cancer. Living at a higher altitude also increases your risk, as individuals living in these areas are exposed to a greater level of radiation .
- precancerous skin lesions. Also known as actinic keratosis, these rough, scaly patches are brown or dark pink in appearance and usually appear on the face, lower arms or hands of fair-skinned individuals who have experienced some form of sun damage. Precancerous skin lesions are another factor that increase your risk of skin cancer.
- personal history of skin cancer. Having a personal history of skin cancer also increases your risk, as even basal cell and squamous cells that have successfully been removed may appear in the same location. This can generally occur within two to three years after their removal.
- family history of skin cancer. Having parents or a sibling with cancer increases your own skin cancer risk. Families can also be affected by familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM). This condition increases the risk of melanoma for an individual and is characterized by a history of melanoma in one or more relatives and having fifty or more moles.
- weakened immune system. Individuals with HIV/AIDS, leukemia or who are taking immunosuppressant drugs following an organ transplant have weakened immune systems and therefore are at an increased risk for developing skin cancer.
- exposure to environmental toxins. Exposure to environmental hazards, including herbicides, increases the risk of skin cancer.
- age. Your risk of developing skin cancer increases with age. This is because most types of skin cancer develop slowly. However, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are on the rise among women under 40 years of age.