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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.


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

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.

Previous skin cancer

If you have had a non melanoma skin cancer, you have a greater risk of getting another one. According to research, you have about a 10 times higher than average risk of a second non melanoma skin cancer. If you've had a melanoma, you have a 3 times higher than average risk of getting a non melanoma skin cancer. So cover up in the sun and look out for any signs of another skin cancer.

Although there is an increased risk, this doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop another skin cancer.

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. 

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

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).


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: 
24 Jul 2017
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    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
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    Wheless L (and others)
    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010.19:1686-95.

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    Young C and Rushton L
    British Journal of  Cancer .2012;107 Suppl 1:S71-5

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