Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States. For perspective, one in five Americans develop skin cancer by age 70, and more than two people die from the disease each hour.
There are several types of skin cancer, but melanoma is the most serious and can put your life at risk. Fortunately, it’s also relatively rare, and early detection can increase your chances of successfully treating the condition.
Scott A. deVilleneuve, MD, performs skin cancer surgery to remove melanoma at Surgical Associates of North Texas in McKinney, Texas. While anyone can develop skin cancer, these five factors can increase your risk of developing melanoma.
1. Light skin
Everyone should try to protect their skin, but it’s even more important for people with light skin who also have the following characteristics:
- Red or blonde hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Skin that freckles or burns easily
You should also take extra precautions with your skin if you have a lot of moles, especially any that seem atypical or unusual. These types of moles usually have an irregular shape or color and should be monitored closely.
However, while you should watch freckles and moles closely, nearly 70% of melanomas do not develop from preexisting moles. Instead, they form on otherwise “normal” or unblemished skin. Furthermore, melanoma spots often contain different colors in the same spots, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
2. Family history
Unfortunately, an estimated 10% of people with melanoma have a family history of the condition. So, if you have a close relative — such as a child, sibling, or parent, with melanoma — your risk of developing the disease increases 2-3 times compared to the national average.
It’s also possible to inherit certain genetic conditions that can increase your chances of developing melanoma, including:
- Xeroderma pigmentosum
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Werner syndrome
- Familial melanoma
Some hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndromes can also increase your risk of developing melanoma.
3. Sun exposure and tanning
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is a leading cause of skin cancer, either through spending time in the sun or by using indoor tanning. UV light can damage the DNA inside your skin cells, which can lead to abnormal cell growth.
You can protect your skin from UV light by limiting your sun exposure during midday, wearing sunscreen with an SPF factor of least 30, wearing sun-protective clothing, and avoiding recreational and indoor tanning.
The median age for diagnosis is just above 50. That means that half of the people diagnosed are age 50 or older, and, consequently, the other half are under age 50.
It’s also important to note that, while melanoma occurs more frequently in older individuals, it’s one of the most common cancers in individuals under age 30, especially young women.
Melanomas that run in families also appear more often at a younger age.
5. A history of skin cancer
If you have had skin cancer in the past, you have a greater risk of developing melanoma in the future. This applies even if your previous cancer was nonmelanoma. So, to protect your skin and your health, be sure to continue getting ongoing, follow-up care to monitor your skin and watch for potential issues.
If you have skin cancer and want treatment, or if you have a spot that concerns you, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Surgical Associates of North Texas today.