Are You at Risk for Skin Cancer?

With about 9,500 people diagnosed with skin cancer every day, it’s the most common cancer in the country. It’s also one of the deadliest cancers and, fortunately, one of the most preventable types of cancer.

Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. But certain people have a higher risk than others. Some risk factors are preventable, such as sun exposure, while others, like age, are not. 

The most common skin cancer type is nonmelanoma skin cancer, which includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanomas are less common but deadlier. 

Not all people at high risk of skin cancer develop it, but it’s still important to know the risks to minimize them. At Los Gatos Dermatology, our board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, Bruce Saal, MD, shares information on skin cancer risk factors and how you can reduce them. 

UV exposure

The majority of skin cancers are due to excessive sun exposure. In fact, 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most skin cancers develop in places that are regularly exposed to the sun. 

In California, the sun is hard to avoid. For that reason, wearing sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more is essential to lowering your risk of developing skin cancer. 


Most skin cancers are diagnosed in people over 50, which is most likely because of their accumulation of sun exposure. But you can develop skin cancer at any age. 

Childhood sunburns

It’s unfortunate that being carefree and sunscreen-free as a child can affect your skin health as an adult, but it’s true. Experiencing five or more severe sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases your melanoma risk by 80% and nonmelanoma skin cancer risk by 68%.

Light skin color

People with light or fair skin color have less skin pigment, which protects against UV radiation. In addition to fair skin, associated features such as blond or red hair and light-colored eyes mean you’re at higher risk. 

That doesn’t mean that people with darker skin can’t get skin cancer. In fact, people with darker skin tend to get diagnosed with skin cancer after it's advanced. 

A history of skin cancer

If a close relative like a parent or sibling had skin cancer, you are at higher risk. Also, if you had skin cancer previously, you are at a higher risk of developing it again.


People with moles, specifically abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi, are at an increased risk of skin cancer. Check your moles regularly to watch for a change in color, size, or depth. 

Is it time for your annual skin cancer screening? Don’t postpone it. Call us at Los Gatos Dermatology in Los Gatos, California, for an appointment with Dr. Saal.

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