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Risks and causes

Most non melanoma 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 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

People who have already had a skin cancer have a greater risk of getting another one compared to someone who hasn't had one. Researchers think this is most likely because of sun exposure. You should 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
  • Incidence statistics for Cancer Research UK (Cancer Stats)

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

  • Risk of subsequent cutaneous malignancy in patients with prior keratinocyte carcinoma: A systematic review and meta-analysis
    Sophie C.Flohil and others
    European Journal of Cancer, Volume 49, Issue 10, July 2013, Pages 2365-2375

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

  • 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

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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