Skin cancer is among the most widespread cancer in the world. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and for that reason, it’s important to be aware of what can cause it.
Thankfully, while skin cancer is widespread, it’s one of the easiest cancers to beat, but only with early detection.
To help us understand exactly what causes skin cancer and the top risk factors for it is 5-time Castle Connolly Top Doc Award winning dermatologist and Harvard-trained Mohs skin cancer surgeon, Dr. Garcia-Zuazaga.
About Dr. Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga
Some people fight with cancer hand-to-hand, others sit on the sidelines and wait until cancer comes to them before attacking and taking it down. Dr. Garcia Zuazaga is the latter.
He is one of the very few doctors in the state of Ohio who is trained in a specific form of skin cancer removal called Mohs Micrographic Surgery.
With over 20,000 cases completed and a 98% success rate, it’s no wonder patients flock to him for their skin cancer needs.
Here are his top risk factors for skin cancer.
As we age, our cells become less and less efficient in their reproduction. That combined with extra time in the sun is a recipe for skin cancer.
Dr. Garcia says, “1 in 5 Americans will develop a skin cancer over their lifetime. Most skin cancer patients are over 50 since there is a direct relationship between sun exposure over time and skin cancer.”
It’s important to note though, that the most dangerous form of cancer, melanoma, can strike at any age. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults. That’s one reason people of all ages should be very familiar with their skin, so they are able to identify any changes that may be signs of cancer.
2. Fair skin
Fair skin is more negatively impacted by the sun. Because of the lack of melanin, fair skin doesn’t block out harmful UV rays as well, allowing more of them in.
If you have very fair skin, avoiding the sun, using sunscreen, and wearing sun protective clothing are your best options to prevent skin cancer throughout your years.
“The Caucasian population is more at risk for skin cancer. Skin cancer is most commonly found on sun-exposed areas such as scalp, face, hands, and neck”
3. Personal history of skin cancer
If you’ve suffered from basal cell cancer or squamous cell skin cancer in the past, you are far more likely to develop it in the future.
For these reasons, we recommend regular skin checks at your dermatologist and to maintain a schedule of checking yourself at home between them.
Dr. Garcia-Zuazaga adds, “Statistics show that 50% of the population that have had a previous basal cell or squamous cell cancer will develop another within 5 years. This is why dermatologists recommend following the NCCN guidelines for skin cancer and offer a skin check every 6 months.”
If you’ve experienced melanoma, your checks should be even more frequent.
“For melanoma, the guidelines recommend skin checks every 4 months.”
4. Family history of melanoma
Certain types of skin cancer are genetic. If anyone in your family has had melanoma, it’s advised to take extra precautions.
“There are some genetic mutations identified in melanoma cells and sometimes multiple family members are at risk for developing melanoma. It’s always important to know the family history in melanoma patients and be more proactive with early detection and screenings.”
Make sure to visit your dermatologist for skin checks if anyone in your family has had melanoma as early detection is key for beating this type of cancer.
Immunosuppressants are used for a number of reasons. Some may need them to treat autoimmune diseases. In which case, those individuals need to take more precaution against the sun than others.
“Due to medications to treat other conditions, all patients taking these medications need to be aware of sun protection. In addition, these patients often have warts that develop. Any change in lesions such as crusty/scale/bleeding or pain should be evaluated promptly.”
Transplant patients, including those with kidney, liver, and heart transplants, in addition to lymphoma history are more likely to develop skin cancer.
Dr. Garcia explains more. “Squamous cell cancer is very prevalent in the transplant population. Due to the immunosuppression from the transplant medications, skin cancers in this demographic tend to be more aggressive. This is why is important to diagnose and treat them early. “
6. Indoor tanning
It’s no secret that indoor tanning is literally killing some people. Clinical studies have confirmed a link between indoor tanning exposure and skin cancer. We are seeing more skin cancers in younger population now.
Dr. Garcia explains the severity of this, “Melanoma is now the second most common cause of cancer deaths in females between 15-30 years old. This is important for people to know. The good thing is that when caught early, melanoma has a very high cure rate.”
7. Atypical moles
Some individuals are genetically coded to produce more moles than others. While moles on their own are harmless, atypical moles can be cause for concern.
“Atypical mole (dysplastic nevus) can act as a pre-malignancy. We know that some of these moles change over time. It’s important for patients to check their skin for any new or changing mole. In addition, we recommend ‘on your birthday…check your birthday suit’. Basically, see a dermatologist once a year for a skin check, especially if you have had atypical moles.”
The more proactive you are with mole checks, the better. After certain types metastasize, they can be hard to recover from.
8. Previous sunburns
Children love to play in the sun but without having proper skin protection, they may be setting themselves up for harm in the future—particularly if they’ve experienced more than 20 severe sunburns.
“I tell my patients to enjoy life and continue to be active – but be skin smart. Protect yourself and your family and use sunscreen.”
Look at the label and select those that say “broad spectrum” (covers UVB/UVA rays) and SPF of 30 or above. Also remember to reapply if you are out in the water.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are also good ingredients that act as physical sunscreen. Invest in a good hat and in clothing that has UPF grading.
9. Outdoor job
Not everyone works from indoors. Being outside for your job, like working as a contractor, landscaper, farmer, or even a professional athlete who has practice and games outdoors can increase our risk of developing skin cancer due to sun exposure.
Make sure to apply sunscreen every day on the areas exposed to the sun and wear other sun protective clothing to reduce your risk of sun exposure.
10. Outdoor hobbies
Similarly, outdoor hobbies that increase your sun exposure will increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Some of the top culprits are: golf, outdoor swimming, running, biking, and skiing.
“Consider a sweat/water-resistant sunscreen and be extra-vigilant and re-apply if you are outdoors in peak hours between 11 and 3. And be mindful that activities around water and snow can increase the likelihood of sun damage due to the reflection of the harmful rays.”
Skin cancer is a serious concern. Prevention is your first line of defense while early detection can help save you if you’ve developed it. Make sure to get regular skin checks with your dermatologist if you have these top risk factors for skin cancer.
Want to learn more about your personal skin cancer risk? Take our simple skin cancer risk assessment quiz!