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Skin Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Like any cancer, early detection of skin cancer is important. If you have questions about your risk of developing skin cancer or if you are experiencing any symptoms, make an appointment with a dermatologist. If there are multiple individuals or generations in your family with skin cancer, a genetic predisposition may be occurring. Being evaluated by a Genetic Counselor at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center may be appropriate.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

While skin cancer is most commonly caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, there are other risk factors beyond the sun or tanning beds.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

The most common risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Age: It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer at least once by the time they reach the age of 65
  • Genetics: Caucasians with red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes have the highest risk of developing skin cancer. Hispanics, Asians and African Americans are less likely to be affected but 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 regions or in the southern U.S. are at an increased risk for skin cancer as well as patients at higher altitudes where the protective atmosphere is thinner.
  • Personal/family history: A history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, can put people at higher risk. There are also genetic syndromes that could predispose a person to skin cancer such as Li Fraumeni, Dysplastic nevus syndrome etc.).
  • Environment: Exposure to coal tar, arsenic compounds, creosote, pitch and paraffin oil puts people at higher risk
  • Previous injuries: Skin that has been affected by a major scar or burn may be more susceptible to developing skin cancer

How to Prevent Skin Cancer

To reduce your risk there are several things you can do daily:

  • Use sunscreen: Choose an SPF 30 or higher, put it on 30 minutes before going outside and follow product directions for reapplication
  • Find shade: Avoid direct sun exposure while outside by staying in shady areas as much as possible
  • Cover your skin: Wear long sleeves and pants when outside
  • Wear a hat: A large brim can help protect your ears and neck
  • Wear sunglasses: Protect your eyes whenever you’re outside
  • Protect 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 tanning beds: Tanning beds and other artificial sunlight can still expose you to harmful UV rays

Take the time to protect yourself from skin cancer and discuss any risk factors you may have with your health care provider.

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