Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Why do some people get skin cancer while others don’t? Some of your likelihood of developing any type of skin cancer is dependent on actions you take to prevent overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) light from the sun and tanning beds. Other risk factors can’t be controlled, but you should be aware if you are more likely to develop either a nonmelanoma skin cancer or melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.
The good news is that the more you know about skin cancer risks, the easier it can be to reduce your risk–or at least detect cancer early when it’s easier to treat.
Having a risk factor (or factors) does not guarantee that you will develop skin cancer. But being in Florida, you’re likely to have a lot of UV light exposure which is good for your mood, but dangerous over the long run for your skin. Even those with a darker skin color, not just fair skinned people, can develop skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but there are some general risk factors that you should be aware of:
Skin cancer risk factors you can’t control:
- Physical traits such as fair skin, freckling, blue or green eyes, blonde or red hair make you more likely to develop skin cancer. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors.
- Certain types and/or a large number of moles increase a person's change in developing melanoma.
- Family history of skin cancer - around 10% of people with melanoma have a close relative with the disease. This may be because the family tends to spend more time in the sun, or because family members have fair skin, or both.
- Personal history of skin cancer - people who have already had melanoma have a higher risk of getting it again.
- Age - chances of being diagnosed with skin cancer increase as a person gets older due to more sun exposure, but skin cancer is also found in young people.
- Severe or long-term skin inflammation.
- Male gender - men have a higher risk than women.
- Weakened immune system - people who have been treated with medicines that suppress the immune system have an increased chance of developing melanoma.
- Taking medications that can make it easier to get sunburned
Skin cancer risk factors you can control:
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
- Avoid sunburns. Those with a history of sunburns tend to be at a higher risk for skin cancer later in life.
- Smoking tobacco.
- Exposure to chemicals or radiation.
Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
Because we can enjoy the sun year-round in Florida, it’s important to protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) radiation all year as well. Even on cloudy or hazy days, UV rays reach your skin and cause damage. UV rays also reflect off surfaces, including water, cement, and sand. Use ample sunscreen and wear a hat when possible outside. Protect your eyes from the sun too with sunglasses that filter UV rays.
Being extra cautious between 10 am and 4 pm can be helpful too since the sun’s rays are the strongest during these times. If you need to be outside, find shade or have a plan for how you can make shade to protect your skin with an umbrella or wide-brimmed hat.
Avoid indoor tanning beds at all costs to keep your risk of skin cancer lower. The intense UV rays from the lights of the tanning bed cause damage quickly.
In addition to the prevention tips above, performing regular skin self-exams, or having a physician perform a professional skin exam annually, can be helpful for identifying any spots that are of concern.
What to Do if You Feel You’re at Risk
If an area on your skin looks suspicious or concerns you, speak with your doctor immediately. If your doctor suspects that you may have skin cancer, he or she will do further examination and testing. The sooner you have it checked out, the easier it can be to cure. Our team of cancer specialists are available throughout Brevard county if you should need to see a skin cancer oncologist after diagnosis.