Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Many factors may influence the development of skin cancer, including:

  • Age: Forty to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop skin cancer at least once.
  • Appearance: People who have red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes are more at risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer occurs less often in Hispanics, Asians and African Americans. However, darker-skinned people and those who tan easily can still develop skin cancer, as well as suffer long-term effects like dry skin and premature aging.
  • Climate/geography: People who live in sunny climates or in southern states are at an increased risk for skin cancer.
  • Personal/family history: A history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, can put people at higher risk.
  • Employment: Working around coal tar, arsenic compounds, creosote, pitch and paraffin oil puts people at higher risk.
  • Previous injuries: If someone has traumatized skin such as a major scar or burn, that person could be at higher risk.

Facts About Sunscreen

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) indicates the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning. A sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher is a good choice for most everyone. Apply it 30 minutes before going outside, spreading it evenly over all exposed parts of your body. Follow product directions for reapplication.

Reducing Your Risk

While there is no one cause, there are several controllable risk factors for skin cancer. Banner MD Anderson suggests:

  • Using sunscreen. Choose an SPF 30 or higher, put it on 30 minutes before going outside, and follow product directions for reapplication.
  • Finding shade. Look for shady areas under an umbrella or tarp. Better yet, stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Covering up. Wear a shirt or other cover-up to protect your skin from the sun.
  • Wearing a hat. Pick one with a large brim to protect the ears and neck.
  • Putting on sunglasses. Buy inexpensive sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
  • Protecting your children. Babies under six months of age should be completely shielded from direct sun exposure. Apply sunscreen to infants over six months of age and teach older children to make applying sunscreen a regular habit before they go out to play.
  • Avoiding the use of tanning beds or other artificial sunlight sources. Tanning beds are not safe alternatives to the sun.