Skip to main content
Hedden and Gunn Plastic Surgery logo
Skin Cancer Center at Hedden & Gunn Plastic Surgery Birmingham's #1 Source for Skin Cancer Treatments

Skin Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

Couple riding bicycles

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans and accounts for almost half of all cancers in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 3.5 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (non-melanoma skin cancers) are diagnosed in the country each year. Almost 77,000 people are annually diagnosed with melanoma, a more serious form of skin cancer. More new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.

Though anyone can get skin cancer, the disease is most often found in people with lighter skin types. Skin cancer most commonly appears on the face, ears, neck, scalp, arms and hands — areas that get the most sunlight. However, it can also develop on skin that is not normally exposed to the sun, which indicates that excessive sun exposure is not the only risk factor for skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight, tanning beds, sun lamps
  • Fair skin that easily sunburns
  • History of sunburns and excessive sun exposure
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Presence of abnormal moles or a large number of moles
  • Presence of pre-cancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses

Skin Cancer Prevention Tips

The most important thing you can do to prevent skin cancer is to limit your exposure to UV rays. To reduce your risk of getting skin cancer:

  • Avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning (e.g., tanning beds, sun lamps)
  • Protect your skin from excessive sun exposure, especially during the middle of the day
  • Use sunscreen year-round with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • Wear protective clothing, and sunglasses for the eyes

Children should always be protected from the sun when they are outdoors. Severe sunburns during the childhood years can greatly increase the risk of getting skin cancer later in life.