Who is at Risk of Skin Cancer?
The question “who is at risk of getting skin cancer?” is not easily answered. Any person who exposes their skin to the sun is at risk of getting skin cancer but fair haired, fair skinned people who live in sunny climates are most at risk.
Fair skinned people have less protection against the sun's harmful rays because of the lack of the protective pigment, melanin, in the skin. And if you have blonde or red hair and tend to freckle or burn easily in the sun, the risk of getting skin cancer is far higher than that of a person with darker features.
Certainly children who have been sunburnt or overexposed to the sun, are at a higher risk of developing some form of skin cancer in later life.
Research has revealed that people with malignant melanoma are three times more likely to have been sunburnt several times as children, than someone without the disease.
Skin Cancer in Australia
Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. It's hardly surprising as Australians tend to be fair skinned and are exposed to the sun from early childhood when their skins are most sensitive.
Intermittent exposure to the sun is very dangerous. People in cooler climates aren't generally exposed to the sun for long periods of time but for a fortnight every year millions of sun seekers head for somewhere hot and lie in the sun, blasting their bodies with something they are not used to.
A study in Australia showed that people who worked in the sun all year round were at less risk of malignant melanoma than those working indoors who only exposed their bodies to the sun irregularly.
Moles are always associated with skin cancer. Having a mole doesn't necessarily mean a person will get skin cancer. However if a person is fair skinned and has a significant number of moles on the body their risk is higher than someone who has only a few. This is because moles are made up of large amounts of melanin and malignant melanoma begins in the cells which produce the melanin. Moles which are irregular in shape and color have a tendency in some people to become malignant.
People who use UVA sun beds in the hope of getting a tan without burning are thought to be at a higher risk than people who don't use them. As yet, sunbeds haven't been around long enough to prove conclusively that they can cause skin cancer but it is a known fact that UVA itself does cause skin cancer.
There is some suggestion that if a person has a close relative with malignant melanoma, then there is a higher risk of developing the disease. However, skin cancer is not generally thought of as a hereditary disease and this increased risk could be down to the fact that family members may share the same fair coloring so have the same risk factors.
The number of non-melanoma and melanoma cancers is low in black and naturally dark skinned people because of the high amount of melanin pigment in the skin. They can usually tolerate relatively high levels of sun without massively increasing their risk of getting skin cancer. However it is important to remember that the sun can damage dark skin and although the risk of developing skin cancer is small, it still exists.