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Skin Cancer Inherited Risk

Factors that increase risk

  • Age. As we get older, more genetic damage occurs in the skin cells. This damage can lead to skin cancer.
  • UV (ultraviolet) light. Ultraviolet light is an invisible form of light given off mainly by the sun. Tanning booths and tanning beds are other sources of UV light. Too much exposure to UV light is thought to be the biggest risk factor for skin cancer and melanoma.
  • Moles. A mole, also called nevus, is a noncancerous skin tumor. Certain types of moles increase a person's chance of getting skin cancer. The chance of any single mole turning into cancer is very low, but a person who has many moles is more likely to develop skin cancer.
  • Fair skin. People with fair skin, freckles, or red or blond hair have a higher risk of skin cancer. Red-haired people and those who sunburn easily have the highest risk.
  • Family history.  Around 10 percent of people with skin cancer have a close relative (mother, father, brother, sister, child) with the disease. This could be because the family tends to spend more time in the sun, or because the family members have fair skin, or both. In some families, this trend is caused by a gene change, along with sun exposure.
  • Gene mutations. Certain gene changes or mutations increase the risk for skin cancer. If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer, two or more close relatives with skin cancer and early onset of skin cancer, this could be a clue for a gene mutation in the family.
  • Gender. Men are more likely to develop skin cancer than women. This may be due to a higher amount of antioxidants in the skin of females than in males.
  • Having had skin cancer. If you have already had a skin cancer, you have a risk for getting another skin cancer.
  • Other factors. Many skin cancers develop in individuals who do not have a family history of skin cancer. Researchers are trying to discover what factors place individuals at higher risk for getting basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma skin cancers.

Inherited skin cancer clues

Research by family linkage studies identified a possible skin cancer gene. This gene, called p16, also known as CDKN2A, INK4A or MTS1, accounts for up to 40 percent of these hereditary skin cancer cases.

Recently there have been updated recommendations regarding testing for this gene. If you have had multiple skin cancers, or family members with skin cancer or pancreatic cancer, genetic testing could be right for you and your family.