Who’s at Risk for Skin Cancer?

Jan 19, 2023
Who’s at Risk for Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer can affect anyone, but certain people are at greater risk than others. Learn more about skin cancer risks below.

Anyone can get skin cancer, even if you don’t have any family history of cancer. It’s one of the most common types of cancer that you can get. Skin cancer falls into two different categories: melanoma and non-melanoma.

The non-melanoma type of skin cancer isn’t serious at all. Melanoma, on the other hand, is very aggressive. Fortunately, it’s also rare. However, while anyone can get it, certain factors may make you more predisposed to getting it. The team at Integrated Dermatology of 19th Street in Washington, D.C. explains more about what increases your likelihood of getting skin cancer.

The two types of skin cancer

As mentioned above, there are two types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. But these two types of cancer differ somewhat from each other.

Non-melanoma is by far the more common type. Non-melanoma type of skin cancer does not involve melanocytes, the cells in your skin that produce melanin. Melanin gives your skin its pigment, so the more melanin in your skin, the darker your skin is likely to be. 

Non-melanoma cancers are usually either basal cell or squamous cell cancers. If caught early, these cancers are usually of little consequence.

Melanoma, which develops in melanocytes, is rarer but much more serious. The cells that make up your skin start to reproduce abnormally and begin to multiply quickly. When this occurs, the cells may metastasize, spreading throughout your body through the lymphatic system.

What causes cancer

Although there isn’t necessarily a single cause of cancer, most skin cancers involve exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. To reduce your skin cancer risk, regularly apply sunscreen, stay in the shade, and wear clothing to block the sun, such as hats and long sleeves.

What increases your risk of cancer

Several factors increase skin cancer risk for some groups of people. These people generally have the following traits:

  • Pale skin
  • Light eyes
  • Light hair (including red shades)
  • Location, as people who live at high elevations or in warmer climates are at increased risk
  • Age, as more non-melanomas occur in older adults
  • A history of sun damage, including blistering and peeling sunburns

If you have many freckles or moles, you also may be at increased risk of skin cancer. 

How to prevent skin cancer

Most skin cancers are preventable but you have to protect yourself. One of the best things you can do is to wear sunscreen, preferably with high SPF. Reapply every few hours. Read the packaging to see the recommendations for the product.

Try to limit your sun exposure during the hours of 10 am - 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are at their peak, and avoid tanning beds. When used regularly, tanning beds significantly increase your risk of cancer as UV rays are a mild carcinogen.

How to check your skin

While it’s a good idea to get a professional evaluation of your skin each year, you can help by examining your skin at home. Check your skin for any moles or suspicious spots, especially using the ABCDE criteria. These stand for the following:

Asymmetry. If the two sides of your mole or skin lesion are irregularly shaped, you should contact a dermatologist.

Border. If the edges of your mole are crooked or jagged, this may be a sign of cancer.

Color. Moles or skin lesions may be an unusual color if you have cancer.

Diameter. If your skin moles are larger than about 6 mm wide, you should arrange a professional check. That’s about the size of a pencil eraser.

Evolution. A cancerous mole may change over time, so you should monitor its evolution.

Spotting changes quickly can help your dermatologist treat any cancers early that may develop. Regular skin cancer screenings can save your life.

If you want to get your skin thoroughly evaluated for skin cancer, contact the providers at Integrated Dermatology of 19th Street or request an appointment online.