Basal Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors
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What Are the Risk Factors for Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. The major risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can damage the DNA in skin cells. The main sources of UV radiation are natural sunlight, tanning beds and tanning lamps.
The risk of developing skin cancers increases with greater exposure to these sources of UV radiation, and individuals who live in areas with year-round bright sunlight, or those who spend a lot of time outdoors without protective clothing or sunscreen, are at greater risk. Early exposure, particularly frequent sunburns as a child, can also increase your basal cell carcinoma risks.
Other potential basal cell carcinoma risk factors include:
- Fair Skin – Caucasians have a higher risk of developing skin cancer compared with African Americans or Hispanics. Also, people with fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk. This is because the skin pigment melanin helps to protect the skin from damage from UV radiation.
- Older Age – The risk of skin cancer increases as you age, which is likely due to accumulated exposure to UV radiation. However, skin cancers are increasing in younger individuals, possibly because they are spending more time in the sun.
- Male Gender – Men are approximately two times more likely to develop basal cell carcinomas compared with women, and this may also be related to increased exposure to the sun.
- Chemical Exposure – Contact with certain chemicals, including arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin and certain types of oil, is considered a risk factor for basal cell carcinoma and other non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Radiation Exposure – Treatment with radiation can increase the risk for developing skin cancers in the exposed area.
- Previous Basal Cell Carcinoma – Patients who have been diagnosed with one basal cell carcinoma are at greater risk for developing another one.
- Severe or Long-term Skin Inflammation – Skin that has been damaged by a severe burn, underlying severe bone infection or severe inflammatory skin disease may be more likely to develop a skin cancer, although this risk is thought to be small.
- Psoriasis Treatment – A treatment for psoriasis, psoralen and ultraviolet light treatment (PUVA) can increase the risk for developing basal cell carcinoma, and potentially other forms of skin cancer.
- Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) – XP is a rare genetic disorder that decreases the ability of cells to repair damage caused by UV radiation. Individuals with this condition frequently develop skin cancers, often starting at a young age.
- Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome – Individuals with this condition, also known as Gorlin Syndrome, often develop many basal cell carcinomas over their lifetimes, and these may start before they are even 20 years old.
- Reduced Immunity – Individuals with weakened immune systems are at an increased risk for developing non-melanoma skin cancers. This can include organ transplant patients who are taking medications to suppress their immune system, as well as patients taking high doses of corticosteroids.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Infection – Infection with certain types of HPV, particularly those that affect the anal or genital area, may increase the risk of skin cancer.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Although preventing skin cancer may not always be possible, the number one way to reduce your risk for developing basal cell carcinoma or other forms of skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Avoid direct sunlight and tanning beds, and when you do go out, wear protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. In addition, avoid or reduce exposure to chemicals that have been linked to increased skin cancer risk.
NOTE: Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.
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