What are the causes of skin cancer? Am I at risk?
Who gets skin cancer?
Skin cancer affects people of all ages, though you are more likely to develop it the older you get. In people over 15, the incidence of skin cancer rises steadily with age, with the highest incidence in people over 80.
Women are more prone to melanoma than men. People – particularly those with fair skin – who have spent a lot of time in the sun are also at a higher risk of getting skin cancer. Melanoma is less common in people with darker skin.
According to Cancer Research UK, around 84,500 people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer each year. Because this kind of skin cancer is often easily treated and cured, it also tends to be underreported; Cancer Research UK estimates that the actual number may be significantly higher, maybe closer to 100,000.
Cancer Research UK reports that more than 10,600 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year.
BUPA’s numbers are lower. They put the number of non-melanoma skin cancer cases at 67,500, and the number of people diagnosed with melanoma each year closer to 7,000.
What are the causes of skin cancer?
Skin cancer is, most often, caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, and its ultraviolet rays. Though we do not know the exact cause of skin cancer, we have a better idea of what increases your risk of developing it than we do with most other cancers.
Skin cancer risk factors include:
- having fair skin that burns easily
- a family history of skin cancer
- having a lot of moles (over 50)
- fair hair, red hair combined with blue or green eyes
- having had a bad sunburn (or many) at some point in the past
- tanning booths / sun beds
- working outdoors
- age (the older you are, the more prone you are to skin cancer – particularly non-melanomas)
- certain skin conditions (like scarring from burns or skin ulcers)
- exposure to some chemicals (such as soot, asphalt or arsenic)
- a weakened immune system (if you have HIV or take immunosuppressant drugs)
- having a close relative who has had melanoma
- having already had a melanoma or another type of skin cancer