Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

Having one or more risk factors for skin cancer doesn’t mean that you will develop skin cancer, but rather that you may increase your chances of getting skin cancer. Knowing that you have one or more risk factors will increase your awareness of skin cancer. You can then better educate yourself, make sure you perform your skin self-exam weekly, and establish a relationship with a dermatologist whom you trust.

Risk factors can be divided in two groups: (1) the inherited (genetic) risk factors, or your personal and family history and (2) the external risk factors, or your environmental exposure.

Listed below are the most common risk factors for the three most common types of skin cancer.

Personal or family historyBCCSCCMM
Fair skin with red hair and blue eyes
Male over 50 years old
Personal history of actinic keratosis, SCC, or BCC
Personal history of MM
Personal history of a rare genetic syndrome, such as albinism or xeroderma pigmentosum
Personal history of a rare genetic syndrome, such as basal cell nevus syndrome
Chronic skin conditions such as scarring from burns, chronic skin inflammation, and ulcers
Family history of MM, such as a parent, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle
Increased number of moles: having more than 50 moles increases the risk of MM
Having atypical or dysplastic moles
Environmental exposureBCCSCCMM
Excessive long-term sun and ultraviolet light exposure:
  • Fair skin and having grown up in a southern region
  • Frequent exposure to outside work or recreation
  • History of multiple sunburns
  • Freckles
  • Use of an indoor tanning lamp or bed
Medical condition that suppresses the immune system, such as AIDS, or medications that organ recipients take to suppress their immune system
History of radiation therapy
Arsenic and tar exposure
Having a wart virus
Cigarette smoking

BCC = Basal cell carcinoma
SCC = Squamous cell carcinoma
MM = Malignant melanoma