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Other Causes and Risk Factors For Skin Cancer

Picture of a woman tanning on the beach, wearing a wide-brimmed hat

What does tanning do to the skin?

Tanning is the skin's response to ultraviolet (UV) light--a protective reaction to prevent further injury to the skin from the sun. However, tanning does not prevent skin cancer.

What are risk factors for skin cancer?

Aside from exposure to UV light (from the sun or manmade sources, such as tanning lamps), the following are possible risk factors for skin cancer:

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.

Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.

But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

  • Heredity. People with a family history of skin cancer are generally at a higher risk of developing the disease. People with fair skin and a northern European heritage appear to be most susceptible.
  • Multiple nevi (moles) or atypical moles
  • Exposure to coal and arsenic compounds
  • Elevation. Ultraviolet light is stronger as elevation increases (because the thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes cannot filter UV as effectively as it does at sea level).
  • Latitude. The rays of the sun are strongest near the equator.
  • Repeated exposure to X-rays
  • Scars from disease and burns
  • Immune suppression, such as in people who have had organ transplants
  • Male gender
  • Older age
  •  Prior history of skin cancer
  • Certain rare inherited conditions, such as basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome) or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)
  • Smoking (increases the risk for squamous cell cancer, especially on the lips)

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