Are You at Risk for Developing Skin Cancer?

Community Member

We have been discussing some of the ways in which certain activities may increase your risk for skin cancer. Some of these potentially harmful activities include: smoking, using tanning beds, and neglecting to use sunscreen.   But there are also certain physical and genetic characteristics which may cause you to be more prone to sun damage and put you at a higher risk for developing skin cancer in your lifetime.

Physical Traits of Persons More at Risk for Skin Cancer:

  • Fair skin

  • Lots of freckles

  • Blue, grey, or green eyes

  • Blond or red hair

  • Multiple moles especially if you have over fifty.

  • Sunburns easily

This does not mean that people having dark skin are immune to getting skin cancer. In fact, in the African American population melanomas may not be recognized until the skin cancer is in advanced stages. For more information please read my post, "African Americans More Likely to Die from Melanomas than Caucasians."

Is there a certain age when melanoma is more likely to be diagnosed? Most melanomas are detected after the age of forty and more than half of all melanoma cases are found in people who are over fifty. There is a growing trend, however, that melanoma rates are increasing for younger people under the age of forty. Some of this increase can be explained by the desire of some young people to tan in the sun or use tanning beds. In fact, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, reports that if you are using tanning beds before the age of thirty, you are upping your risk for melanoma by 75%.

Do men and women differ in their rates of developing skin cancer? If you are a woman who is younger than forty, melanomas are slightly more common for you than for men. In one study reported in the June 2007 issue of the British Journal of Dermatology, men were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer from basal cell carcinoma and twice as likely to suffer from squamous cell carcinoma as women. In this particular study it was also found that women were 30 per cent more likely than men to suffer from malignant melanoma.

Are there any genetic factors which increase one's risk for skin cancer? If you have a family member who has had melanoma you are considered to be at risk for developing skin cancer and you should tell your doctor so that you can be checked regularly for any suspicious moles or lesions. The National Cancer Institute reports that: "Having two or more close relatives who have had melanoma is a risk factor. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have a family member with this disease." So while it is not set in stone that you will automatically get skin cancer if a relative has it, you are more at risk.

Other Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer:

  • If you live in a geographic are near the equator you may be more at risk for skin cancer.

  • If you have had long term cumulative sun exposure without the use of sun screen you are more prone to developing skin cancer.

  • If you have already been treated for melanoma you are at a high risk for developing more melanomas in your lifetime. If you have had basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas you are also more at risk for developing melanoma.

  • Those sunburns you got as a child or teen can put you more at risk for future skin cancer especially if any were severe and blistering.

  • If you are a patient with a weakened immune system you may have an increased risk for skin cancer. People with HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and organ transplant recipients who take immunosuppressant drugs are at higher risk.

For more information about skin cancer risk factors: