What Causes Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer caused by a malignant growth on the skin. There are three types of skin cancer

  • Basal cell cancer – this is the most common type of skin cancer but in most cases basal cell cancer is not lethal. This cancer type is typically found on the head and neck and causes major damage and mutilation to the surrounding tissues
  • Squamous cell cancer – squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a malignant cancer that develops from epithelial cells. It may affect the skin, lips, mouth, esophagus, urinary bladder, prostate, lungs, vagina, and cervix.
  • Melanoma – this is the rarest form of skin cancers but is considered the most fatal. Melanoma is a malignant tumor that occurs in the cells located in the bottom section of the skin’s outer layer, the middle layer of the eye, the inner ear and other areas that produces melanin.

Causes of Skin Cancer

Ultraviolet Radiation

The major cause of skin cancer is the sun’s rays which are radioactive. The sun’s energy has both visible and invisible lights including ultraviolet (UV) rays that will cause sun tan and sunburn. The skin’s DNA becomes damaged with exposure to the sun, excessive exposure will lead to severe damage where normal skin cells begin to grow abnormally and form cancer cells. Ultraviolet radiation is a higher risk factor for non-melanoma cancers such as basal cell carcinoma. Ultraviolet (A) and ultraviolet B (UVB) are the two types of ultraviolet rays. The sun is the primary natural source of UV radiation, artificial sources include tanning booths and some types of lasers.
Person of fair complexion will have a greater risk of developing melanoma type skin cancer. If an individual has light skin that freckles easily and tends to burn rather than tan, blond or red hair and blue or light gray eyes, they are more susceptible to sun exposure and ultimately skin damage/cancer. Persons who see an increase in skin moles are also at greater risk.


Persons with a family history of skin cancer may be prone to the disease. Skin cancer can be caused by abnormal genes that are inherited from parent to child. Family history is a common risk factor for melanoma, and persons with first-degree relatives diagnosed with melanoma do have a 50% chance of having this cancer than others with no family history. The risk will however, decrease as the relations get more distant.

Other Causes

In the case of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) not all cases are attributed to sun exposure. There are a few occasions when the tumors develop in areas that are not exposed to sun. Contact with arsenic, radiation, open sores that do not heal, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications of burns, scars, infections, vaccinations, and tattoos can contribute to this cancer type.

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