Skin cancer risk factors

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is observing the month of June as skin cancer awareness month.

Ultraviolet
light is considered to be the major risk factor for most skin cancers.

Sunlight
is the main source of ultraviolet, or UV, radiation, which can damage the genes
in your skin cells. Tanning lamps and booths are another source of UV
radiation.

The
amount of UV exposure depends on the strength of the light, how long the skin
was exposed, and whether the skin was covered with clothing and sunscreen. Many
studies show that being exposed to a lot of sun when you are young is an added
risk factor.

People
who live in places with year-round, bright sunlight have a higher risk.
Spending a lot of time outdoors without covering your skin and using sunscreen
increases your risk.

Individuals
with certain types of moles may also have a higher risk of getting melanoma. A
mole (the medical name is nevus) is a benign, non-cancerous skin tumour. The
chance of any single mole turning into cancer is very low, but a person who has
many moles is more likely to develop melanoma.

The
risk of skin cancer is much higher for Caucasians than for dark-skinned African
Americans or Hispanics. This is because melanin helps protect against UV
radiation. People with dark skin have more melanin. People with fair or
light-coloured skin that freckles or burns easily are at extra high risk.

The
risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers also goes up as people get older.
Older people have been exposed to the sun for a longer time. Still, these
cancers are now being seen in younger people too, probably because they are
spending more time in the sun without protecting their skin.

Men
are two times as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and about three
times as likely to have squamous cell cancers of the skin.

Exposure
to large amounts of arsenic, a heavy metal used to make some insecticides,
increases the risk of skin cancer. Arsenic is also found in well water in some
areas. Workers exposed to industrial tar, coal, paraffin, and certain types of
oil may have an increased risk, too.

Having
had radiation treatment also increases the risk. This can be a problem for
children who have had cancer treatment.

People
who have already had a skin cancer are at risk of it re-occurring.

Also,
people with certain long-term or severe skin problems, like scars from bad
burns, areas of skin over bad bone infections, and skin damaged by certain skin
diseases are at risk. Having had psoriasis, a long-lasting inflammatory skin
disease, treated with psoralen and ultraviolet light treatments (PUVA) can
increase risk of squamous cell skin cancer, and maybe other skin cancers, too.

Certain
family diseases can also pose a risk. Xeroderma pigmentosum, a very rare
disease which tends to run in families, makes the skin less able to repair sun
damage. People with this disease get many skin cancers, sometimes starting in
childhood.

A
rare condition known as basal cell nevus syndrome which is present at birth can
cause some people to have many basal cell cancers. It often runs in families.

People
with weak immune systems are more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer.
Skin cancers in people with weak immune systems tend to grow faster and are
more likely to be fatal.

A
small number of skin cancers seem to be linked to infection with human
papilloma virus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. Smoking is a risk
factor for squamous cell skin cancer.

Scientists
have found that certain people are more likely than others to develop skin
cancer after sun exposure. In these people, certain parts of the normal cells
are more sensitive to being damaged by sunlight.

Camila Muniz Ferreira is project
coordinator of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society

FEATskincancerSTORY

Sunbathing and spending a lot of time in the sun increases the risk of getting skin cancer.
Photo: File

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