Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

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A risk factor is anything that may influence a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like exposure to harmful UV, can be controlled. Others, like a person’s age or family history, cannot. 

Having a risk factor, or even a lot of risk

factors, does not mean that you will definitely get cancer. Many people with risk factors for skin cancer will never acquire the disease. In contrast, some individuals  that do develop skin cancer may have few or no known risk factors.

Nevertheless, it is important to know about the risk factors for skin cancer because there are easy steps you can take that could lower your risk of getting it. 

Your skin type is a major factor in your risk for developing all forms of skin cancer. Despite the fact that people with lighter skin tones are at higher risk, exposure to harmful UV radiation can increase your skin cancer risk even if you have a darker complexion and don’t burn.

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There are 6 skin types. Individuals with types 1 and 2 experience the highest risk of developing skin cancer, while types 5 and 6 experience the lowest risk. This is due to the fact that those with melanin-rich skin (types 4-6) have more natural protection from the sun. Although more melanin means additional protection, people with darker skin tones can still get skin cancer. Regardless of skin type, everyone should practice sun safety daily and visit their dermatologist for a skin check at least once a year.


Harmful UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources can cause serious, lasting damage to your skin, no matter your skin type. Did you know that music legend Bob Marley died of melanoma that formed on his big toe? Skin Cancer doesn’t discriminate so we all need to do our best to protect ourselves every day from harmful UV.

Understanding your skin type is very important when it comes to protecting against skin cancer, but it is not the only risk factor you have to worry about. Let’s dig into some of the other risk factors for skin cancer.

Other Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

UV Exposure

Exposure to harmful UV radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices is thought to be the main risk factor for most skin cancers. Harmful UV damages the DNA inside of skin cells which causes them to mutate and grow out of control, forming skin cancer.


Men are almost 2 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinomas and 3 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinomas than women. This is thought to be due mainly to the fact that men get more sun exposure and do not practice sun safety behaviors.

Inherited Conditions

Inherited conditions such as xeroderma pigmentosum affect the skin’s ability to repair UV damage. This in turn, puts them at an increased risk of developing skin cancers.


Certain types HPV infections, particularly those that affect the anal or genital area, may increase the risk of skin cancer.


Skin cancer risk increases as you get older due to accumulated exposure to harmful UV. Skin cancers can also be found in young individuals that spend a lot of time in the sun. Frequent sunburns, especially when they occur during childhood, increase your overall risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

Mole Count

Most moles or lesions are innocent and may never develop into skin cancer. However, having a large number of moles may increase your risk for developing melanoma.


Smokers are more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancers, specifically on the lips.


People who have had radiation treatment have a higher risk of developing skin cancer in the exposed area.

Weakened Immune System

People that have had an organ transplant often take medications that weaken the immune system so that the body does not reject the organ. These individuals are unfortunately, more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancers in people with weak immune systems tend to grow faster and are more likely to be deadly.


Individuals with one or more parents or siblings with skin cancer may be at increased risk for developing the disease. Additionally, people who have previously been diagnosed with skin cancer are at increased risk for developing the disease again.


Exposure to certain chemicals, including arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin and certain types of petroleum products, may increase the risk for certain types of skin cancers.

Psoriasis Treatment

Some patients with psoriasis (a long-lasting inflammatory skin disease) are treated with a combination of medication and ultraviolet light treatments. This can increase their risk of getting skin cancer.

Regardless of whether you have any of theses risk factors, reducing your exposure to harmful UV radiation can help keep your skin healthy and lower your chances of getting skin cancer in the future. To learn about ways to protect yourself from harmful UV, CLICK HERE.