Skin cancer risk factors include the following:
- Too Much Sun – Overexposure to sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer. Protecting ourselves from the sun’s rays could prevent about 80 percent of skin cancers. Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a full day at the beach or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens whenever you are in the sun, for example when you are gardening, fishing, hiking, riding a bike, going to the zoo, attending a baseball game, or going to and from your car. The warm, sunny Central Texas climate encourages people to spend time in the sun, so it is not surprising that Texas skin cancer rates are higher than those in Northern states.
- Severe Sunburns – During childhood and teenage years, too much sun can be especially harmful to children. Research shows that children and teenagers who suffer severe, blistering sunburns are at an increased risk of melanoma and other skin cancers later in life.
- Tanning Booths and Sunlamps – Tanning booths and sunlamps actually damage the skin and a tan from these artificial methods will not protect you from the sun. The average 15 to 30 minute visit to a tanning salon is equal to a whole day at the beach according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). New studies also suggest that this form of radiation, ultraviolet A light, may in fact be related to the development and growth of melanoma. More bad news about tanning salons according to the AAD: Other studies show that tanning-bed light can burn both skin and eyes, alter the immune system, cause skin to age prematurely (photoaging) and cause non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Fair Complexion – People with light skin, fair hair, freckles, blue, green, or gray eyes, and those who burn easily are most at risk for skin cancer. However, even dark-skinned people develop skin cancer. African-Americans have the lowest risk of skin cancer because they have the highest levels of melanin (the pigment that helps prevent burning) in their skin.
- Unusual looking moles or a large number of dark moles – People with unusual looking moles or a large number of dark moles have an increased risk of melanoma. One type of unusual mole, a dysplastic nevus has varying shades of black, brown and pink within a single mole, and has irregular or uneven boarders, with the coloring fading into the skin around the mole. Dysplastic nevi are often common to members of the same family and tend to appear beginning in late childhood or the teen years. Most congenital nevi are not at high risk for skin cancer development. In general, the larger they are, the more at-risk they are. Congenital nevi less than less than one centimeter in diameter are usually no more risky than other moles.
- Personal or Family History of Skin Cancer – The risk of melanoma is greater for those who have already had a melanoma and people with a family history of melanoma.
- High doses of x-rays and certain chemicals – Less common risk factors include exposure to high levels of x-rays or to certain industrial compounds. Ionizing radiation, the type given off by x-rays, can increase the risk of skin cancer for those who often use x-rays in their work, such as dentists and radiologists, and for those who have received x-ray treatments for acne and other conditions. (This does not include getting routine dental x-rays or those used to diagnose injuries or disease). Long-term contact with certain industrial compounds, such as arsenic, pitch and coal tars may also be related to skin cancers.
- Male Gender – Men are twice as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers of the skin according to the American Cancer Society.