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Skin cancer risks and causes

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Updated: Wednesday, Aug 18,2010, 3:28:16 PM
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Skin cancer risks and causes

Non melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. It is one of the few cancers where we know the cause of most cases.

Age
Having had skin cancer before
Family history of skin cancer
Other skin conditions
Skin cancer and the sun
Human papilloma virus (HPV)
Smoking

Most skin cancers are caused by long term exposure to the sun. There are two types of non melanoma skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). A history of sunburn increases the risk of BCC. Risk is especially high if you had several episodes of sunburn in childhood. The risk of SCC is linked to overall sun exposure through your life. This means that outdoor workers have an increased risk - for example, farm workers, gardeners and building site workers. Sunburn in childhood is also linked to SCC in some studies.

Fair skinned people, with light coloured hair and eyes, or those more likely to burn than tan, are more at risk of sun damage than dark skinned people.


Other risk factors
There are several factors that affect your risk from sun exposure

    * How much time you spend outdoors
    * Your natural skin colour
    * Your use of sun beds

There are two types of non melanoma skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). A history of sunburn or “recreational” exposure to sunlight increases the risk of BCC. Risk is especially high if you had several episodes of sunburn in childhood. The risk of SCC is linked to overall sun exposure through your life. This means that outdoor workers have an increased risk - for example, farm workers, gardeners and building site workers. Sunburn in childhood is also linked to SCC in some studies.

Fair skinned people, with light coloured hair and eyes, or those more likely to burn than tan, are more at risk of sun damage than dark skinned people. This is because their skins make less of the protective pigment called melanin. Black skinned people are less likely to get skin cancer, but they can be at risk on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands.

Albinism is an inherited genetic condition in which the skin makes no melanin at all. Albino people have very white skins and pale blonde hair. They are at higher than average risk of skin cancer because their skin has no natural protection against the sun.

It has always been thought that UVB is the main risk for skin cancer. Sunbeds produce mostly UVA (but all produce some UVB too). UVA damages the skin and there is increasing evidence that UVA may also cause skin cancer. So sunbeds may increase your risk of non melanoma skin cancer. The evidence is strongest for a link between sunbeds and squamous cell skin cancer.

You have a higher risk of skin cancer if you are older or have had skin cancer before.  Having a family history of skin cancer also increases risk.  Other factors include having had certain other skin conditions or previous radiotherapy,  having been exposed to certain chemicals and having a weakened immune system.

Tags: Cancer skin

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