7 Risk Factors That Increase Your Chances of Getting Skin Cancer

When the the summer months are in full swing, everyone takes the fun and games outdoors. This, of course, means tons of sunscreen, since worries about sun exposure are on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, your July 4th barbecue or day at the beach aren’t the only times of year you should be conscious of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, because risk factors that raise your chances of getting this common cancer aren’t exclusive to summer. Here is a look at seven of them and preventative steps you can take.

1. Weak immune system

Woman blowing her nose on couch

That sneezing could be a bad sign. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

A depleted immune system gives you a higher chance of becoming sick. But, as the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention explains, a weak immune system can also raise your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer. This means people who’ve received transplants are more susceptible. “people who have had an organ transplant often take medicines to weaken the immune system so that the body cannot reject the organ, the same story says. And remember, chronic stress can also weaken your immune system. It’s best to avoid sun exposure as much as possible if you have a depleted immune system, whether that means wearing extra layers of clothing or posting up in a shaded area.

2. High altitudes

Man skiing.

The higher up you are, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer. | iStock.com

Whether you are on a summer hike or a winter ski trip, your proximity to the sun raises your skin cancer risk. (Which is particularly disappointing, given that higher altitudes can have protective effects on heart disease, as well as lung disease and obesity.) You don’t even have to be standing out in the sun to raise your risk: Pilots and flight crew may have a heightened risk of melanoma. This means sunscreen is a must year-round at high altitudes– yes, even when it’s cold outside.

Tip: As WebMD explains, super high SPF numbers aren’t necessarily more effective. Stick to a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or 50. Any number higher than that isn’t going to give you much more protection.

3. Exposure to arsenic

It can be difficult to steer clear of this risk-raising substance

It can be difficult to steer clear of this risk-raising substance. | iStock.com/Antoine2K

Inorganic rsenic — which can be found in pesticides, building products, and contaminated water — raises your risk of skin cancer and other health problems. The American Cancer Society explains there are several U.S. government agencies that monitor arsenic levels, giving you a helping hand in keeping yourself from being over-exposed. But if you believe you’re regularly being exposed to the inorganic compound, you should contact a doctor about having some testing done.

4. Fair hair, skin, and eyes

You might be in peak physical condition. But that won't stop your complexion from putting you at risk.

You might be in peak physical condition, but that won’t stop your complexion from putting you at risk. | iStock.com/warrengoldswain

If you have extra fair hair, skin, and eyes, you probably already know that your skin cancer risk is higher. “The less pigment you have in your skin, the less protection your cells have against dangerous UV rays,” WebMD states. However, it isn’t just the fair-skinned kids that are at risk. “Non-melanoma is rare if your skin is dark, but you can still get melanoma.” Long story short: You should be protecting your skin no matter what your complexion is. But for those extra pale types, pair your extra SPF with hats, sunglasses, and extra layers to protect your skin.

5. Age

Elderly care and respect

Age isn’t just a number when it comes to your skin cancer risk. | iStock.com/vladans

Depending on how old you are, you might have grown up in a time when baking out in the sun was a normal practice. But that’s a habit you’ll have to let go of, since skin cancer risk increases as you age. “Most non-melanomas seem to show up in adults 50 and older,” WebMD explains. This could be due to more instances of sun exposure. (More on that in just a bit.) If you fall into this category, moving yourself into the shade and wearing sunblock — even when not in direct sunlight — are good ways to keep yourself protected.

6. Family history of skin cancer

Your risk factor can lie within your family genes.

Genetics can influence your risk of skin cancer. | iStock.com/Lacheev

When it comes to preventing skin cancer you could, unfortunately, have genetics going against you. “If one of your parents or a sibling has had skin cancer,” Mayo Clinic summarizes, “you may have an increased risk of the disease.” But this doesn’t mean that you are automatically doomed. Consider this a great reason to go get a cancer screening, which can help catch potentially harmful cell growth at an early stage.

7. History of sunburns

It is never too late to start practicing safe sun.

It’s never too late to start better habits to protect your skin. | iStock.com/mabe123

This is safe sun 101. The more sunburns you get at a young age, Mayo Clinic says, the greater your risk of skin cancer. “Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood also are a risk factor,” the story reads. Even if you don’t regularly experience peeling skin and blisters, you should be taking every precaution to protect your skin. Using SPF and clothing to protect your skin in direct sunlight are just two of the simple ways you can keep your risk factor down.

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