Top 10 risk factors of skin cancer


Usually caused by mutations in the DNA of the skin cells, skin cancer takes three forms – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The mutations in the DNA cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells. The DNA of the skin cells can be damaged because of exposure to harmful artificial light, ultraviolet radiation found in the sun, toxic substances or a weakened immune system. Surender Dabas, Director, Head, Neck and Thorax Surgical Oncology, Robotic Surgery, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, helps us in understanding the top risk factors that can lead to skin cancer.

Risk factors for skin cancer are:
1. Fair skin – Having less melanin (skin pigment) in the skin provides less protection against the damaging UV radiation. Dark skinned people are at lesser risk of suffering from skin cancer.
2. A history of sunburn – When the skin is badly damaged by UV radiations, sunburn is caused. Repeated sunburn is indicative of skin damage which can lead to cancer.
3. Excessive sun exposure – Spending too much time in the sun can cause cancer because of the increased exposure to radiation. UV rays can have a very harmful effect on the skin, resulting in a change in the DNA composition of the skin cells.
4. Sunny or high-altitude climates – Prolonged exposure to sunlight results in exposure to radiation (in harmful quantities). Therefore, people who live in sunny climate are at a bigger risk than those who don’t.
5. Moles- People who have abnormal moles (called ‘dysplastic nevi’) are at an increased risk of skin cancer. These moles are irregular in shape and are generally larger than normal moles. They are more likely to act as sites for skin cancer.
6. Precancerous skin lesions – The presence of skin lesions can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. These precancerous skin growths typically appear as rough, scaly patches that are brown to dark pink. They’re most common on the face, head and hands.
7. A family history of skin cancer – Genetics play a strong role in causing cancer. If the family history is riddled with cancer patients it is likely that it will affect the younger generations. In addition to this, if a person has already suffered from cancer once – they are likely to get affected by it again.
8. A weakened immune system- People with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. This includes people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant. This is usually because it becomes easier for the infection to take control if healthy cells are weak.
9. Exposure to radiation- People who received radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma.
10. Exposure to toxic substances – Prolonged exposure to skin irritants (such as arsenic) can cause skin cancer.