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Skin Cancer: Who are the people most prone to getting skin cancer?

Posted May 07 2011 3:34pm

Dr. Altman’s answer to “Who are the people most prone to getting skin cancer?” on Quora

The majority of skin cancers are due to sun exposure, so in general, people who are most susceptible to sun damage and/or have had the most sun exposure are most likely to get skin cancer.

Melanin is the pigment in the skin that protects from sun damage by absorbing ultraviolet light, so the less pigment people have the less protection from ultraviolet light. So very fair people with light colored eyes and light colored hair are more susceptible to skin cancer than people with more pigment in their skin. People who have no melanin at all, like people with albinism or vitiligo, are much more likely to get skin cancer.

The amount of sun exposure a person receives also plays a role in how likely they are to get skin cancer particularly before age 20. So people with outdoor occupations and people who engage in outdoor acitivities such as going to the beech, playing golf, etc increase their chances of skin cancer.

Also, genetics play a big role. If your parents or grandparents had skin cancer, you are more likely to develop it. There are genetic diseases like xeroderma pigmentosum where the body’s repair mechanisms that eliminate sun damaged DNA are defective. People with xeroderma pigmentosum develop many skin cancers from a very early age.

The immune system is very important in eliminating sun damaged precancerous and cancerous cells. If the immune system is suppressed, like in solid organ transplant recipients, the risk of developing a skin cancer is significantly higher. In heart transplant recipients, the risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma is 250 times that of the general population. The skin cancers that transplant recipients develop are also much more aggressive than usual.

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