Top 7 things that increase your risk of melanoma and other skin cancers
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A woman, on a ski slope, puts sunscreen on her face.

More people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer than any other form of cancer. Fortunately, most skin cancers are easily treated if caught early. That’s why it’s important to understand what factors increase your risk of skin cancer. If you know you are at a high risk of skin cancer, you can take proactive measures to lower your risk and follow screening precautions that might save your life.

How is melanoma different from other types of skin cancer?

There are different kinds of skin cancer and the treatment options and severity varies for each. Melanoma is a life-threatening form of skin cancer that affects people of all ages and skin tones. While your risk of melanoma increases as you age, it’s also the most common form of cancer found in young adults.

Melanoma is a much more aggressive form of skin cancer than others, like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma because it can quickly grow and spread to lymph nodes or internal organs. When diagnosed early, 98% of melanoma cases can be treated surgically without chemotherapy or radiation. However, left untreated, melanoma can be deadly.

Fortunately, melanoma can be cured when it’s found early. That’s why it’s important to seek care from an experienced team of skin cancer experts at the first sign of an unusual change to your skin, especially if your skin has been excessively exposed to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds.

Factors that increase your risk of developing melanoma.

A risk factor is anything that affects the likelihood that you develop a disease. Some skin cancer risk factors are within your control, such as how much sun you’re exposed to. Others are outside of your control, like your age or family’s medical history.

Are you at a high risk of developing skin cancer? On the #MedStarHealth blog, Dr. McCarron shares 7 factors that can increase your risk of #SkinCancer, including #Melanoma, you can do to decrease your odds:

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1. Excessive sun exposure.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most common cause of skin cancer. Therefore, if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun during midday hours, you are at an increased risk of skin cancer. This is especially true if you don’t take proper precautions to protect your skin by wearing UV-blocking clothing or sunscreen.

2. Your skin type.

While anybody can develop skin cancer, people with a lighter complexion are more prone to developing skin cancer than those who have a naturally darker complexion. And, if your skin easily freckles or turns red, or you have light-colored eyes and blonde or red hair, you are also at a greater risk. People who have albinism have little or no melanin pigmentation to protect their skin from the sun and are at the greatest risk of skin cancer.

In addition, if you have a lot of moles on your skin, you may be at an increased risk. Although most moles are harmless, having a large number of moles or moles that are abnormal increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

3. Tanning bed use.

Even if you only use a tanning bed one time, you increase your risk of skin cancer. That’s because tanning beds use high levels of UV radiation to affect the pigment of your skin. Some people may think that having a “base tan” before going on vacation will help to minimize their risk of severe burns, but a tan does not protect your skin from the sun. Any change in pigment, whether sunburn or tan, is a sign of injury to your skin. That’s why it’s important to avoid using tanning beds or sunlamps altogether.

4. A past of blistering sunburns.

If you’ve had one or more blistering sunburns, you have a higher risk of skin cancer. While frequent sunburns also increase your risk of skin cancer, getting one or more blistering sunburns could double your risk of developing skin cancer later in life, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

5. Age.

As you age, you increase your risk of skin cancer because you’ve accumulated more years and opportunity to be exposed to UV radiation from the sun. Most skin cancers are diagnosed in adults over the age of 50. However, skin cancer can also be found in young adults who spent a lot of time in the sun with little to no protection.

6. Personal history of skin cancer.

If you’ve had skin cancer before, you are more likely to develop it again. This is true for all types of skin cancer, but reoccurrence is especially common if you’ve had melanoma. 90 percent of recurring cases of melanoma occur in the first three years after treatment which is why it’s important to continue to follow-up with your care providers even after your skin cancer is treated.

7. Family history of skin cancer.

Finally, if a family member has had skin cancer, you are at a greater risk of getting it yourself. And, certain inherited conditions that may affect your skin’s ability to repair UV damage may increase your risk of skin cancer.

How to lower your risk of developing melanoma.

Just because you have a risk factor doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to develop melanoma. However, having a risk factor or multiple risk factors means that you should take extra precautions to lower your risk.

If you have a higher risk of developing melanoma, you can help protect your skin and lower your risk by:

  • Using sunscreen
  • Wearing protective clothing
  • Avoiding the sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
  • Performing skin self-exams
  • Talking to your doctor about any signs of abnormal skin lesions or moles
  • Seeking routine screenings starting at the age of 40

Learn more about protecting your skin from harmful UV rays.

While some types of skin cancer are easily treated, melanoma can be life-threatening. And although melanoma survival rates have greatly improved over the past decade, it’s still better to never need melanoma care in the first place. If you do, it’s important to seek care from an experienced team of skin cancer experts at the first sign of an unusual change to your skin, especially if you are at a high risk of skin cancer.

Have you been diagnosed with melanoma or another skin cancer?

Our highly trained specialists can provide comprehensive treatment plans to help remove and prevent the cancer from returning.

Learn how MedStar Health Cancer Network can help.

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