Skin Cancer


Most skin cancers, particularly basal cell and squamous cell types, are caused by exposure to sunlight. The ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun—particularly UVB and UVA wavelengths—cause DNA damage in the cells. The resulting lesions usually occur on areas of the skin that have received the most sun exposure. These are typically the face, the back of the hands, and the arms. Your chances of having a skin cancer increase with age and lifetime sun exposure.

Besides sunlight, being in contact with certain chemicals or taking medications that suppress your immune system can also increase your risk of getting skin cancer.

Risk Factors

The following risk factors may increase your chance of developing skin cancer:

  • Having a light skin color
  • Having red or blond hair
  • Long-term sun exposure
  • Having had severe, blistering sunburns in childhood
  • Increased age
  • Certain genetic patterns that may run in families
  • Exposure to specific chemicals (such as arsenic) or radiation
  • Having a compromised immune system
  • Having certain types of skin abnormalities such as actinic keratoses (rough, red scaly patches)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Having a family history of skin cancer

Other risk factors

Other factors that can contribute to your risk for skin cancer include:

  • Tanning booths or the use of tanning lamps
  • The presence of wounds or scars that will not heal


Last Updated August 2020