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Skin Cancer Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that contribute to or increase your risk of developing skin cancer, including sunburns and having a family history of the disease. The risk factors for skin cancer include:

Sun Exposure and Sunburn

Most skin cancers crop up on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In fact, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are linked to ultraviolet exposure from the sun. What’s more, having one or more blistering sunburns in your childhood or during adolescence can more than double your risk of developing melanoma later in life.

But the sun isn’t the only culprit; indoor tanning also exposes your skin to ultraviolet light. Although some people believe that indoor tanning is safer than sunning their bodies on the beach, spending 10 minutes in a tanning bed has the same cancer-causing effects as laying out for 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun. People who use indoor ultraviolet tanners are 1.75 times more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tan indoors. Those who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to have basal cell carcinoma.

Family History

Having a family member, such as a parent or sibling, who has been diagnosed with skin cancer puts you at greater risk for developing the disease yourself.

Skin Tone

Although people of all skin tones can develop skin cancer, those with light coloring—a fair complexion, red or blond hair, or blue or green eyes—are at a greater risk. The lack of pigment, known as melanin, means the skin is less protected from the sun’s damaging rays.


Having many moles also increases your risk of developing skin cancer. If you have many moles on your body, it’s especially important to have your skin examined regularly by a dermatologist to check for any precancerous or cancerous changes.


Skin cancer can occur at any age, but the risk tends to rise as you get older. Nonmelanoma skin cancers are more common after age 40. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have some form of skin cancer at least once.

Weakened Immune System

If you suffer from a condition that has caused you to have a weakened immune system, your risk for developing skin cancer is greater than normal.

Environmental Factors

It is believed that exposure to certain toxic substances, such as arsenic, may increase your risk for skin cancer.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed : Jennifer Monti, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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