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Let’s talk about skin cancer

Dr Rodrigo de Obaldía Z.

Cancer of the skin is by far the most common of all types of cancer. According to one estimate, about 3.5 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year (occurring in about 2.2 million Americans, as some people have more than one). The number of these cancers has been increasing. This is probably from a combination of better skin cancer detection, people getting more sun exposure and people living longer.

Death from these cancers (non-melanoma) is uncommon. Most people who die are elderly and may not have seen a doctor until the cancer had already grown quite large.

Risk Factors

Having light-colored skin

The risk of skin cancer is much higher for whites than for African Americans or Hispanics. Whites with fair (light-colored) skin that freckles or burns easily are at especially high risk. They have a high risk of getting sunburns and skin cancer, so they need to be careful to protect their skin.

Older age

The risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers rises as people get older. These cancers are now being seen in younger people as well, probably because they are spending more time in the sun with their skin exposed.

Male gender

Men are about twice as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and about three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers of the skin. This is thought to be due mainly to higher levels of sun exposure.

Exposure to certain chemicals

Exposure to large amounts of arsenic increases the risk of developing skin cancer. It*s also used in making some pesticides and in some other industries.

Radiation exposure

People who have had radiation treatment have a higher risk of developing skin cancer in the area that received the treatment.

Previous skin cancer

Anyone who has had a basal or squamous cell cancer has a much higher chance of developing another one.

Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury.

Scars from severe burns, areas of skin over serious bone infections and skin damaged by some severe inflammatory skin diseases are more likely to develop skin cancers.

Psoriasis treatment

Psoralens and ultraviolet light treatments given to some patients with psoriasis can increase the risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer and probably other skin cancers.

Reduced immunity

The immune system helps the body fight cancers of the skin and other organs. People with weakened immune systems, like people who are treated with cortisone or medicines to avoid rejecting of a transplant, are more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer.

People infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often have weakened immune systems and are also at increased risk for basal and squamous cell cáncer.


People who smoke are more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer, especially on the lips.

Sun Exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet rays is a major risk for most skin cancers including melanomas; sunlight is the main source of ultraviolet rays.

Melanoma skin cancer

Melanoma accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.

The rates of melanoma have been rising for at least 30 years.

Melanoma is more common in whites than in African Americans. Overall, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2 percent (1 in 50) for whites, 0.1 percent (1 in 1,000) for blacks, and 0.5 percent (1 in 200) for Hispanics.

Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure

Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays. People who get a lot of UV exposure from these sources are at greater risk for skin cancer, including melanoma. Both UVA and UVB rays damage skin and cause skin cancer. UVB rays are a more potent cause of at least some skin cancers, but based on what is known today, there are no safe UV rays.

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