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Risks and causes

Find out what causes non melanoma skin cancer, including lifestyle factors and other conditions, and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Age

The older you are, the more likely you are to develop non melanoma skin cancer. But skin cancers can develop in younger people too.

Previous skin cancer

A diagnosis of melanoma means that you have a 3 times higher than average risk of getting a non melanoma skin cancer.

Being diagnosed with a non melanoma skin cancer means that you:

  • have about a 10 times higher risk of a second non melanoma skin cancer
  • might also be at an increased risk of developing a second primary cancer (other than skin cancer), it's not clear why

Family history of skin cancer

Most non melanoma skin cancers don't run in families. But research has found some families seem to have a higher number than normal. You have an increased risk of developing a squamous cell skin cancer (SCC) if one of your parents has had an SCC. People who have a family history of melanoma have an increased risk of basal cell skin cancer (BCC).

Of course, skin type runs in families. So people from fair skinned families will be more at risk. But there might be some other inherited genes that increase the risk of non melanoma skin cancer in some families.

Sun exposure

Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun. This may be long term exposure, or short periods of intense sun exposure and burning. The ultraviolet light in sunlight damages the DNA in the skin cells. This damage can happen years before a cancer develops.

Skin conditions

People with certain skin conditions can be more likely to develop skin cancer. These include:

Other risks

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence. There might be things you have heard of that we haven’t included here. This is because either there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.

Last reviewed: 
23 Sep 2014
  • Incidence statistics for Cancer Research UK (Cancer Stats)

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2015

  • Guidelines for management of Bowen’s disease: 2006 update
    N.H. Cox (and others)
    British Journal of Dermatology.  2007 156, pp11–21

  • Nonmelanoma skin cancer and the risk of second primary cancers: a systematic review
    Wheless L (and others)
    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010.19:1686-95.

  • Occupational cancer in Britain: Skin cancer
    Young C and Rushton L
    British Journal of  Cancer .2012;107 Suppl 1:S71-5

  • Treatments for psoriasis and the risk of malignancy
    Patel RV (and others)
    Journal of the American Acadedemy of Dermatology. 2009. 60 (6): 1001-17

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​