Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

One in every five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetime. This troubling statistic makes skin cancer the most common cancer among people living in the United States. Fortunately, skin cancer is considered highly treatable in the vast majority of cases. By recognizing your risk factors, protecting your skin, and performing thorough self-examinations, it is possible to prevent skin cancer from becoming a life-threatening condition.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

There are environmental and genetic factors that do increase your risk of developing skin cancer during your lifetime. These include:

Paler skin:

Our skin contains a pigment called melanin. The levels of melanin determine how pale or dark your skin is, with darker skin containing more melanin. Melanin provides some protection against the sun’s UV rays, so people with darker skin have a lower chance of developing skin cancer than those with paler skin.

However, no one is 100% protected. Those with darker skin should still perform self-examinations to look for skin abnormalities, especially in areas where the skin tends to be lighter such as the palms and bottom of the feet. It is beneficial for everyone to perform these self-checks, and you may want to have a partner or close friend that is willing to check your back, scalp, and other areas that are difficult to check yourself.


A sunburn is a direct sign of sun damage on your skin. Every time you get a sunburn, you increase the likelihood that you will develop skin cancer. That is why it is so important to provide your skin with adequate protection by using at least 30SPF sunscreen or protective clothing.


Tanning, whether out in nature or in a tanning bed, is damaging to your skin. That lovely tan color is how your skin responds to UV radiation, so it is much better to skip the tan or to go with a spray-on option.

Living at Higher Elevations:

If you live in a sunny area, it makes sense that your skin cancer risk would be higher, but living at higher elevations can actually increase your risk as well. You’re physically closer to the sun, and its radiation is proportionally more direct.

Skin Lesions:

Any abnormal marks on the skin have the capability of becoming cancerous. Moles and other common skin lesions are generally harmless. However, if you notice that they’re asymmetrical or have begun changing their shape or color, that is a red flag. Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Family History:

A strong family history of skin cancer could indicate increased risk even outside of similar skin tones. If your parents or grandparents have had an issue with skin cancer, then you have to be even more careful. It still isn’t entirely clear how much of this is related to the excessive tanning and lack of sunscreen use by those generations, but it’s better to be safe.


Radiation exposure is relatively rare in comparison to the other risk factors listed here. But it can be an issue. Radiation is still used to treat certain cancers, and some occupations put people at higher risk of exposure.

Going to the Doctor

You should do a full-body skin check every one to three months, depending on your risk level. If you do find something potentially troubling, don’t hesitate. Just make the appointment. In most cases, your general practitioner will be able to evaluate your condition, take a sample, and direct you to the specialists that will help guide you through treatment. The one exception may be with lesions on your face.

Given the delicate and prominent features of our faces, you definitely want to use an expert who will be able to remove the precancerous or cancerous tissue while preserving your symmetry. Fortunately, if you ever develop eyelid cancer in Newport Beach, you have OC Oculoplastic at your disposal. As an ophthalmic plastic surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Joseph offers eyelid surgery in Newport Beach to patients who want results that are as medically sound as they are aesthetically pleasing.