Everyone is generally aware that skin cancer is something they should be concerned about, but skin cancer remains a highly underestimated problem. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a current estimate that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Despite that alarming number, many people don’t realize how at-risk they are for skin cancer.
As with any medical condition, everyone has a different level of inherent risk for skin cancer. Your risk depends on your family history, your personal characteristics, your lifestyle habits, and more. How do you know if you have a high risk for skin cancer? Start by asking yourself these questions from our skin cancer treatment specialists at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta.
What Are Your Physical Characteristics?
Certain aspects of your physical appearance could indicate that you have a higher skin cancer risk. Namely, these characteristics include a light skin color, blue eyes or green eyes, and blond hair or red hair. However, there is no race that is immune to developing skin cancer. You can also use the Fitzpatrick skin type scale to assess your skin type and your skin cancer risk. The Fitzpatrick scale categorizes your skin on a scale of 1-6 based on your ability to tan or burn to measure its vulnerability to the sun. The lower the number is the higher your risk for skin cancer.
How Does Your Skin React to Sun Exposure?
When your skin is exposed to the sun, how does it react? If your skin tends to burn easily, you have a heightened risk for skin cancer. The same is true if your skin freckles easily after sun exposure.
How Many Moles Do You Have and How Do They Look?
Everyone naturally has some moles. However, if you have a large number of moles, you are at a greater risk for skin cancer. You also have a higher risk for skin cancer if you have more than ten moles that are atypical. An atypical mole is a mole that looks unusual, such as a mole that is asymmetrical, has multiple colors within it or is an unusual color, has an irregularly shaped border, or is larger around than a pencil eraser.
What Is Your Family History?
Skin cancer tends to run in families. Has anyone in your immediate family been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past? If so, you have a higher risk for skin cancer as well. Don’t assume that you would know if someone in your family had skin cancer, as cancerous lesions are often removed quickly and easily, so it’s always best to ask.
What Is Your Medical History?
Unsurprisingly, if you have had skin cancer in the past, you are more likely to develop skin cancer in the future as well. However, fewer people realize that conditions that compromise your immune system can also raise your risk for skin cancer. For example, if you are taking immunosuppressant medications as a result of an organ transplant, you have a higher risk for skin cancer.
What Is Your Age?
Skin cancer typically develops as a result of sun damage that accumulates in your cells. Because of this, older individuals are at a higher risk for skin cancer because they have had more years with which to accumulate sun damage.
What Were Your Past Sun Exposure Habits?
As we noted, skin cancer generally develops due to years of repeated sun exposure. This means that your past and present sun exposure habits will impact your risk for skin cancer. If you have used tanning beds or laid out in the sun to get a tan, or if you have had an outdoor job, you are more likely to develop skin cancer. The less you have used sunscreen on a regular basis, the higher your skin cancer risk is too.
It’s clear that there are many risk factors for skin cancer, and some are in your control while others are not. Regardless of your risk factors, one of the most important ways to protect your health is to schedule your annual skin cancer screening with our skilled providers at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta. We can assess any potential areas of concern in addition to counseling you about your skin cancer risk factors and how to keep your skin healthy. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more skin health tips.