Everyone is at some risk for skin cancer, but certain factors increase your risk.
Most risk factors apply to all three major types of skin cancers — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. But certain factors are associated only with nonmelanoma skin cancers and others only with melanoma.
General skin cancer risk factors
These factors relate to all three of the major skin cancers. If any apply to you, take precautions to protect yourself by limiting your sun exposure and using sunscreen.
You are at increased risk for skin cancer if:
- You have fair skin; blond, red or light brown hair; blue, green or grey eyes; or freckles. (People with darker skin are at lower risk because they have more of the pigment melanin, which provides some protection. But people with any skin tone can get skin cancer.)
- You had several blistering sunburns as a child or teen, or you burn before you tan.
- You spend a lot of time outdoors for work or recreation.
- You work indoors all week and then are exposed to sun on the weekends — while playing, gardening or washing the car without a shirt on, for example.
- You live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates and areas with year-round, bright sunlight.
- You live, work or vacation at high altitudes.
- You have been treated for skin cancer in the past.
- One or more of your first-degree relatives (a parent, sibling or child) had skin cancer. The more family members who have had skin cancer, the higher your risk.
- You have xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare, inherited condition in which your body cannot repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet light.
- Your immune system is weakened, such as if you are taking medications for an organ transplant, have AIDS or cancer or are on immune-suppressant medicines.
- You have used tanning beds, booths or sunlamps.
- You take any medicines that may be harmful when you are out in sunlight or make you more prone to sun damage. (These include tetracycline, sulfa drugs and some other antibiotics; naproxen sodium, ibuprofen and some other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; phenothiazines; tricyclic antidepressants; thiazide diuretics; sulfonylureas; and medicines that lower your immunity.) If you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
- You are older. Risk of developing skin cancer increases with age. But young people can get skin cancer too, and children are extremely susceptible to sun damage.
Basal and squamous cell carcinoma risk factors
In addition to the factors above, the following factors put you at risk for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or both:
- Smoking. Though it’s most commonly associated with lung cancer, smoking can cause many other types of cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV that affect the genital and anal areas appear to be related to skin cancers in these areas.
- Basal cell nevus, a rare condition present at birth, that causes multiple basal cell cancers often before age 20.
- Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury, including scars from severe burns and skin damaged by severe inflammatory skin diseases. When dark-skinned people get skin cancer, it is usually squamous cell carcinoma that appears in areas where they were burned or had an inflammatory skin condition.
- Psoralen and ultraviolet light treatments (PUVA) for psoriasis.
- Radiation exposure, including radiation treatments for cancer or other illnesses.
- Exposure to certain chemicals, including arsenic.
- Sun-damaged skin areas with a precancerous condition, such as actinic keratosis.
Melanoma risk factors
Merkel cell carcinoma risk factors