Like any cancer, skin cancer results from the abnormal growth of cells that cause tumors. The most common risk factor for skin cancer is unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, typically in the form of sunlight or tanning booths. However, it’s also possible to develop skin cancer on parts of your body that aren’t usually exposed to UV light.
Other factors can also increase your risk of developing skin tumors. When you have several risk factors working against you, regular skin cancer screenings with dermatologist Clement Banda, MD, and our team at MD Vein & Skin Specialists can help you detect problems in their early stages. Combined with regular self-checks at home, you can react quickly when skin changes appear.
Three major types
There are many forms of skin cancer, but three occur most often. These are, in order of most frequent occurrence:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is not only the most common form, it’s usually the slowest growing and least likely to spread. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize (spread) more easily but it has a high cure rate when caught before then. Melanoma is the rarest of the three, but it develops the fastest, generally regarded as the most dangerous of the common skin cancers. Sun exposure is less of a factor, and melanoma can form anywhere, on any skin type.
Skin cancer risk factors
Skin cancer starts when DNA mutations happen in the cells of your skin’s top layer, the epidermis. Not surprisingly, the epidermis contains basal and squamous cells as well as melanocytes. UV light can cause damage that triggers those DNA mutations.
However, since skin cancers can occur in places that aren’t exposed to UV light, there are reasons other than tanning beds and sunlight that trigger mutations, and these may not always be known. While having skin cancer risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll develop cancer, it can help you understand the importance of regular cancer screening.
Besides excessive UV exposure, some of the most common skin cancer risk factors include:
- Fair skin: less skin pigment means less natural protection against UV rays for those with blond or red hair, light eyes, and a tendency to freckle or burn easily
- History of blistering sunburns: one or more severe sunburns over the course of your life
- High-altitude residence: UV levels are higher at higher elevations
- Skin lesions: actinic keratoses represent a precancerous change to skin in the form of scaly patches
- Moles: people with many moles or who have the type called dysplastic nevi are more likely to develop skin cancer
- Personal or family history of skin cancers
- Weakened immune system: taking immunosuppressant drugs after a transplant or living with HIV/AIDS leaves you vulnerable to cancer formation
- Radiation exposure: forms of radiation other than sunlight can cause mutations, including medical radiation treatments for skin conditions
If you have several of the risk factors listed above, you’ve got a good reason to watch your skin closely. Recognizing problems early is key to beating all forms of cancer. Learn more about self-checks and screenings by scheduling a consultation with Dr. Banda. Contact MD Vein & Skin Specialists by phone or online to book your appointment today.