What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

You have a slightly higher risk of skin cancer if you have:
  • Light skin, hair, and eye color
  • Freckles
  • Difficulty tanning
The risk of malignant melanoma is also higher if you had severe sunburns in childhood or intermittent intense exposure to sunlight.

You are at considerably higher risk if you have:
  • Skin lesions that change rapidly or have abnormal features (e.g., uneven shape, irregular borders, variability in color, a diameter larger than 6 mm)
  • Atypical moles (e.g., moles that are bigger than ordinary or have irregular borders)
  • Certain congenital moles
  • A lot of regular moles
  • A weakened immune system
  • A family or personal history of skin cancer
The most significant risk factor for any type of skin cancer is excessive sun exposure. The sun's rays contain harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can damage your skin. Another risk factor is having fair skin, because light skin doesn't have as much pigment to protect from the sun. If you have had severe sunburns, especially as a child, you're also at an increased risk for skin cancer. Having many moles or any irregular moles may also increase your risk for developing skin cancer. Other risk factors may include a personal or family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, and exposure to certain chemicals like arsenic or radium.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Watch as dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur discusses the factors that could increase your risk for skin cancer.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Risk factors for skin cancer include fair complexion, family history, excessive sun exposure and severe sunburns as a child. To check for skin cancer, see a dermatologist annually and also perform monthly self-screenings.



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Studies have found the following risk factors for skin cancer:
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: UV radiation comes from the sun, sunlamps, tanning beds, or tanning booths.
  • A person's risk of skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UV radiation.
  • Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but the sun damages the skin from an early age.
  • Scars or burns on the skin.
  • Infection with certain human papillomaviruses.
  • Exposure to arsenic at work.
  • Chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers.
  • Diseases that make the skin sensitive to the sun, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, albinism, and basal cell nevus syndrome.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Medical conditions or drugs that suppress the immune system.
  • Personal history of one or more skin cancers.
  • Family history of skin cancer
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine

In addition to sun and UV exposure, skin cancer risk factors include fair or sensitive skin, light features (freckles, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair), working outdoors, a family history of skin cancer and a preponderance of moles.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.