Just like its symptoms, the risk factors for skin cancer can be divided into 2 different sections, for melanoma and for non-melanoma skin carcinoma. And even though not all risk factors are related to lifestyle, it is believed that up to 86% of skin cancer cases can be preventable, based on healthy lifestyle choices.
BCC and SCC risk factors include:
- Ultra Violet (UV) light: this is the major risk factor for most skin cancers. The UV rays (from the sun or tanning beds) damage the skin cell’s DNA. The duration of sun exposure as well as skin protection weight heavily on the risks.
- Fair skin: Anyone is at risk of skin cancer. However, white people are at a higher risk than people with darker skins. This is because darker skins contain much more melanin, which helps protect the skin against UV radiation. The fairer the skin, the higher the risk.
- Older age: It is believed that older people are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer, due to the accumulated exposure to UV radiation over the course of their lives.
- Men are twice as likely as women to develop BCC and 3 times more likely to have SCC.
- Chemical exposure: Certain chemicals are known to lead to non-melanoma skin cancers, such as arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin, as well as certain types of oil.
- Radiation exposure: People who have gone through skin treatment by radiation are at a higher risk of developing BCC, particularly in that exposed area.
- A history of skin cancer means an increased risk of developing the disease again.
- Long-term or severe skin injuries such as scars from burns, or damaged skin by a severe inflammatory skin disease slightly increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
- Psoriasis treatment: this UV light treatment can increase the chances of getting SCC.
- Inherited conditions, such as Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), which reduces the ability for the skin to heal from sun damages, can lead to a high risk for developing skin cancers.
- Weakened immune system: people with weakened immune systems (from disorders or medication) are more likely to develop many types of cancers, including BCC and SCC.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): infections due to certain types of HPV, especially in the genital/anal area, may increase the risk for skin cancer.
- Smoking is a significant risk for squamous skin cancer.
- Genetics: people with a family history of skin cancer (especially first degree relatives) are at a higher risk of getting skin cancer too.
Melanoma Skin cancer risks have a few similarities with BCC and SCC risks and include:
- UV light: Here too, exposure to the sun over long periods of time can increase the risk of getting MSC.
- Moles in themselves are benign tumors, and the chance of one turning into cancer is low. That being said, a person with several moles is more likely to develop melanoma.
- Fair skin: Here again, the whiter the skin, the higher the risk. So much so that white people are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma than African Americans, with redheads having the highest risk.
- Family history of melanoma: 10% of cases diagnosed with melanoma have a close relative with this disease.
- A personal history of melanoma increases the risk of getting another one.
- With a weakened immune system, people are also more likely to develop melanoma.
- Age: Older people are at a higher risk of getting melanoma. However, this is also the most common skin cancer found in people younger than 30.
- Gender: men are also more likely to develop melanomas than women.
- Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) also increases the risk of developing melanoma.