Skin Cancers and Risk Factors

Skin cancers are increasing world wide and there has been a great awareness in the past decade about the risk factors. The common risk factors which can increase the risk of the most common skin cancers include:

Sun exposure: Excessive sun exposure is the highest risk for developing skin cancers. Individuals who work in the outdoors such as farmers, gardeners and fisherman have extensive exposure to sun during their lifetime. It is these individuals who most commonly develop skin cancers. Individuals who live in sunny climates are also exposed to more sun than those living in cooler and more temperate climates. Those individuals who live at high altitudes are also exposed to a higher intensity of UV rays.

Moles: In general moles are harmless and pose no medical health hazards. However, some moles known as dysplastic moles or the hairy moles can change in their shape, size, and color and ulcerate. These moles are abnormal and can turn into a cancer. Moles generally turn into a melanoma. Any mole that suddenly changes its characteristics should be immediately seen by a physician

Fair skin: Individuals who have fair skin have a much higher risk of skin cancer when they are exposed to sun. These individuals lack melanin which is a pigment that protects against skin cancers. In general, individuals who are fair skinned or have red hair, light blue colored eyes and those who sunburn easily are more prone to skin cancer than individuals who have dark skin.

Sunburn history: Individuals who are easily sunburnt and have had a history of sunburns are prone to developing skin cancers. In most cases, the skin cancers are seen after the 5th decade of life.

Sun tanning. Sun tanning poses a very high risk for exposure to UV rays. Despite the use of sunscreens, sun tanning is not recommended. Most individuals who tan go on to develop various types of skin lesions and aging skin prematurely

Precancerous skin lesions; Many individuals who have had prolonged exposure to the sun develop precancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses. These grayish flat scaly lesions are usually seen on the upper part of the body. These lesions can turn into cancer and only a biopsy will reveal that.

Family history of skin cancer. Any individual who has a family history of skin cancer is prone to an increased risk compared to the general population. There are various familial syndromes which predisposes one to skin cancers. The Familial malignant melanoma syndrome is a familial skin cancer which occurs in families. Individuals in these families have more than 50 moles- the majority of which are atypical.

Personal history of skin cancer. If you developed skin cancer once, you're at risk of developing it again. Even basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas that have been successfully removed can recur in the same spot, often within two to three years.

Drugs: Individuals who take immunosuppressive drugs such as chemotherapeutic agents are increasingly prone to a variety of cancers including the skin. This is most common in transplant patients who remain on chemotherapeutic drugs for life

Chronic skin ulcers: Individuals who have long standing ulcers or non healing wounds are prone to developing skin cancers in these areas. These cancers are generally not suspected and by the time diagnosis is made, spread has occurred.

Environmental hazards: Once skin cancer was only seen in western countries. Today, skin cancer is a problem worldwide and there is concern that exposure from environmental pollution due to toxic chemicals, including insecticides, herbicides and industrial waste may be linked

Age. Like all illness, skin cancers also increase with age. Skin cancers in general are a disorder of aging. However, in the last decade, there has been an explosion of skin cancers in younger individuals. The reason for this is not well understood but linked to the environment and sun exposure.

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