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Risk Factors


Dr. Mayzik
Risk factors are those things that may increase the chances of developing a condition. Knowing your risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is the first step in prevention and early detection. Dr. Alvarado, can you tell us about the risk factors for SCC?

Dr. Alvarado
Definitely, Dr. Mayzik. There are two types of risk factors: those that can be controlled and those that cannot be controlled. The primary cause of most skin cancers, overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, is a controllable risk factor. Ways to limit ultraviolet, or UV, exposure include:

  • Reducing time spent in the sun
  • Wearing protective clothing
  • Avoiding sun exposure at midday, when UV light is most intense
  • Applying sunscreens regularly and frequently, and
  • Not using sun lamps and tanning beds

Risk factors for SCC that cannot be controlled include:

  • Complexion: Skin cancer is more common in people with lightcolored skin, hair, and eyes.
  • Sun sensitivity: Those who are more likely to sunburn or get freckles, rather than tan, are considered sun sensitive.
  • Genetics: Having a family history of skin cancer increases the risk of developing the condition.
  • Age: Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common after age 40.
  • Weakened immune system: Conditions that weaken the immune system include long-term treatment with medications used to prevent organ rejection, lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
  • Ionizing radiation treatments: People who have had radiation exposure, such as radiation therapy or x-rays, are at higher risk of developing SCC. This risk is directly related to the amount of radiation exposure, and the condition may appear 15 to 20 years after exposure.
  • Chemical exposures: Those who have a history of contact with arsenic, coal, industrial tar, or paraffin are at a higher risk for SCC.
  • Chronic skin ulcers.
  • Actinic keratosis, or AK: AK is a rough, scaly, slightly raised growth that ranges in color from brown to red and is about one millimeter to one inch in diameter. It’s found on sundamaged areas of the body.
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum: This is a rare, inherited condition that reduces the skin’s ability to repair damage caused by sunlight.

Skin cancer can develop in anyone, not just those with these risk factors. Keep in mind that healthy young people -- even those with dark skin, hair, and eyes -- can develop skin cancer.