What Are the Four Main Causes of Skin Cancer?

Medically Reviewed on 6/10/2022

4 Main causes of skin cancer

Most skin cancers occur due to repeated and prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight. Also, artificial sources, such as tanning beds, can cause skin cancer.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight including artificial UV rays, DNA (oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes), xeroderma pigmentosum, and HPV can cause skin cancer.

Most skin cancers occur due to repeated and prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight. Also, artificial sources, such as tanning beds, can cause skin cancer. UV rays can damage the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) inside the skin cells. DNA is the source of instructions for everything that cells function.

DNA consists of genes that are responsible for providing instructions to control cell growth and division. Two types of genes are associated with cancer development:

  • Oncogenes: These genes promote cell division including growth, dividing, and staying alive.
  • Tumor suppressor genes: These genes slow down cell division or make cells die at the right time.

DNA mutations causing the activation of oncogenes and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes can lead to cancer. Researchers have found that in many skin cancers, the cells have alteration in the tumor suppressor genes. The tumor suppressor genes mostly altered are

  • Squamous cell cancers: TP53 tumor suppressor genes may leave longer and become cancerous.
  • Basal cell cancers: PTCH1 or PTCH2 genes are tumor suppressor genes that keep cell growth in check.  Altered PTCH1 gene in all the cells of the body can cause basal cell cancers. 

Apart from these causes, other causes include

  • Xeroderma pigmentosum: People with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) have a high risk for skin cancer. People with XP have less ability to repair DNA damage caused by sunlight. As a result, they often develop cancer in sun-exposed areas of their skin.
  • Human papillomavirus: Human papillomavirus (HPV) affects the growth-regulating proteins of the infected skin cells. As a result, the skin cells grow out of control and do not die when they are supposed to.

What are the eight risk factors for skin cancer?

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of getting cancer. Having a risk factor or multiple risk factors does not mean a person will get cancer. There are circumstances where people with multiple risk factors do not get cancer, and some people who get it may have a few or no known risk factors.

However, it is essential to be aware of the risk factors to prevent getting skin cancer. The eight risk factors include

  • Light-colored skin: People with fair (light-colored) skin with the following characteristics are at higher risk of getting skin cancer:
    • Freckles or burns easily
    • Blue or green eyes
    • Naturally red or blonde hair
    • It is because white-colored skin has less melanin, which has a protective effect on people.
    • Also, people with albinism have an extremely high risk of getting sunburn and skin cancer. Albinism is an inherited condition with a lack of protective skin pigment.
  • Age: Older people are more prone to skin cancer due to the buildup of sun exposure over time. Currently, skin cancer is prevalent amongst youngsters probably because they are spending more time in the sun with their skin exposed.
  • Gender: Men are more prone to skin cancer compared to women.
  • Arsenic: Exposure to large amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Radiation exposure: People who have had previous radiation treatment tend to develop skin cancer in that particular area.
  • Psoriasis treatment: Some people with psoriasis receiving psoralens and ultraviolet light treatments can increase the risk of developing skin cancers.
  • History of skin cancers: People with a previous history of skin cancer have an increased chance of developing another one.
  • Weakened immune system: Weak immune system can increase a person’s risk of developing different skin cancer. The immune system can be compromised in the following conditions:


Self-examination is important in the detection of skin cancer. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 6/10/2022
American Cancer Society. Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html