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Causes of Skin Cancer

Author: Ioannes Salamanes

Editor: Ken Saito and Kira Tian

Artist: Kimberly Arinton

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States? By the age of 70, one out of five Americans will develop skin cancer. Thankfully, it can be cured if diagnosed in its early stages, when it is still relatively easy for dermatologists to eliminate it with little to no scarring. A very aggressive and rare form of skin cancer, melanoma forms in the melanocytes (cells that produce melanin that gives our skin pigment). Melanoma, with its life-threatening effects, can become increasingly difficult to treat the longer it goes unnoticed.

When one of the three types of cells that form skin reproduces abnormally in the epidermis—the outermost layer of skin—skin cancer develops. This brings the added risk of these cells metastasizing, meaning that they spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system. Most skin cancer cases cause exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light: UV rays from the sun or even tanning beds can damage the skin’s DNA when it is not protected. When the DNA is altered and unrepaired, it triggers mutations in the DNA, and skin cell growth can no longer be controlled, leading to skin cancer.

Various factors can increase the chance of getting skin cancer. Some of these factors can be controlled, while others cannot. Sun damage, like sunburn, caused by prolonged exposure to UV light, increases skin cancer. This goes for both melanoma and nonmelanoma. The location of where people reside can also affect their risk of developing skin cancer. People who live in higher elevations and warmer climates are typically exposed to more UV radiation from the sun, therefore having increased odds of getting melanoma. Other factors include age and gender. Because exposure to UV light accumulates with age, those over 50 are more prone to nonmelanomas. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is more likely to develop in men than women. However, more women under the age of 50 tend to develop melanoma than men their age.

Some factors that cannot be controlled include having moles, a weak immune system, and light eye, skin, or hair color. Skin cancer is rare among those with darker skin because the more pigment there is in the skin, the more protective properties cells have against UV radiation. This doesn’t entirely rule out melanoma for people with darker skin types, however. People with a lot of moles can have a higher chance of developing melanoma skin cancer. Exposure to toxins like radiation and working with dangerous chemicals can damage skin cells and jumpstart the development of skin cancer. Additionally, those who have had nonmelanoma skin cancer in the past still have the chance of developing it again. This also includes a bloodline’s history of skin cancer.

Now that you are aware of the various causes and risk factors of skin factors, you should take note of how to protect yourself from developing it. The most effective way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun. Whenever you spend a long time under the sun, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or over is a necessity. Additionally, try to wear tight-weave clothing with a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin. You should also avoid using tanning beds, stay out of the sun when you are taking medication, and find shade whenever the sun is too intense. Remember, skin cancer cannot always be prevented; regular skin checks can help you catch it early on, making it easier to treat. In fact, it is common for doctors to detect skin cancer growth even before its cancerous stage.



Gardner, Stephanie S. “Skin Cancer: What Are the Causes of Nonmelanoma?” WebMD, WebMD, 6

“Skin Cancer and Melanoma: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.”,

“Skin Cancer Information.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 June 2021,

Walker, Jennifer. “Debunking Skin Cancer Myths.” UConn Today, 6 May 2021,

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