Skin Cancer Home > Causes of Skin Cancer

In general, sources of ultraviolet radiation (such as the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds) are associated with skin cancer. There are also other factors that put you at a higher risk of developing the disease. Research has shown that people with a fair complexion, scars or burns on the skin, and infection with certain human papillomaviruses are more likely than others to have it. Although these risk factors are not skin cancer causes directly, they increase the likelihood of you developing the condition.

An Introduction to Causes of Skin Cancer

The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources, such as sunlamps or tanning booths. However, doctors still cannot explain why one person will develop skin cancer and another person will not. However, we do know that skin cancer is not contagious and you cannot "catch" it from another person.
This article discusses causes of skin cancer for nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma). Click Causes of Melanoma to read about melanoma risk factors.

Know the Risk Factors

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • Fair complexion (blond or red hair, fair skin, green or blue eyes, history of freckling)
  • Scars or burns on the skin
  • Infection with certain human papillomaviruses
  • Exposure to arsenic
  • Chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers
  • Radiation therapy
  • Medical conditions or drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants)
  • Personal history of one or more skin cancers
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Diseases that make the skin sensitive to the sun, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, albinism, and basal cell nevus syndrome.
Other risk factors for skin cancer include actinic keratosis and Bowen's disease.
Actinic keratosis is a type of flat, scaly growth on the skin. It is most often found on areas exposed to the sun, especially the face and the backs of the hands. The growths may appear as rough red or brown patches on the skin, they may also appear as cracking or peeling of the lower lip that does not heal. Without treatment, a small number of these scaly growths may turn into squamous cell cancer.
Bowen's disease is a type of scaly or thickened patch on the skin that also may turn into squamous cell skin cancer.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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