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The Major Risk Factors for Developing Basal Cell or Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

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Updated May 05, 2009

People of any age, race, or skin color can develop basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer. However, the likelihood of developing these diseases increases when you have one or more risk factors.

The most significant risk factor for skin cancer, by far, is well known: exposure to excessive ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning salons. However, numerous other factors are associated with basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Your risk increases if you:

  • have freckles and burn before tanning
  • have fair skin or blond, red, or light brown hair
  • have actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous lesions that have the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma)
  • have albinism (absence of skin pigment)
  • are a male (men are about two times as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and about three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers)
  • are older (due to the accumulation of sun exposure over time)
  • were previously treated for skin cancer (the chance of a second occurrence is 40%)
  • have a family history of skin cancer (a genetic influence is more common in melanoma, however)
  • live or vacation at high altitudes (UV radiation increases 4% to 5% for every 1,000 feet above sea level)
  • live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates (the risk doubles for those living in Florida or Arizona versus residents of Minnesota, for example)
  • work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
  • spend a lot of time or work outdoors

There are also less common but well-documented additional risk factors.

Unlike many cancers, basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma can be cured if detected early. If you have any of the above risk factors, it is important that you perform regular self examinations of your skin, see a dermatologist for regular examinations, and protect yourself from the sun.

Sources:

"What Are The Risk Factors for Squamous and Basal Cell Skin Cancer?" American Cancer Society. June 2008. 18 October 2008.

"What is Your Risk?" American Academy of Dermatology. June 2008. 18 October 2008.

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