While skin cancer is not necessarily always genetic, certain genetic factors can increase the risk of developing the disease. A family history of skin cancer and some inherited conditions can increase the likelihood of the condition.

Skin cancer can occur from unprotected exposure to UV rays. A family history of skin cancer can also increase the risk of the disease, as can certain inherited genetic mutations.

Being white, having fair skin, or having a weakened immune system can also increase the likelihood of skin cancer.

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Skin cancer can run in families.

The three main types of the disease include:

Exposure to UV light and environmental factors can cause each of these skin cancers, but hereditary factors can also contribute.

The risk of developing melanoma increases if people have one or more first-degree relatives, such as a sibling, parent, or child, with melanoma. Roughly 10% of those with melanoma have a family history of the condition.

There is also an increased risk of BCC and SCC in people with a family history of any skin cancer.

Additionally, certain inherited conditions, genetic mutations, a shared family pattern of sun exposure, or fair skin running in the family can increase the risk of the disease.

Inherited conditions that increase the risk of skin cancer include:

  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP): This results from a mutation in the XP gene and makes it more difficult to repair DNA damage, leading to a high risk of skin cancer.
  • Dysplastic nevus syndrome: This is a condition where people have multiple atypical moles.
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome: This refers to when people have dysplastic nevus syndrome and a close family history of melanoma.
  • DNA changes: These mutations occur in tumor suppressor genes.

Other risk factors, which may run in families, include a shared family lifestyle, which may involve frequent sun exposure and fair skin running in a family.

Although anyone can get skin cancer, those with fair skin have an increased risk. These individuals include those:

  • with light skin and freckles
  • with skin that sunburns easily
  • with red or blonde hair
  • with blue- or light-colored eyes

There are also risk factors for skin cancer relating to race. For example, white people have an increased risk of melanoma than African Americans, while albinism in those of African descent is another high risk factor.

Risk factors for skin cancer that people can control include:

  • unprotected exposure to UV light
  • indoor tanning
  • sunburn
  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as large quantities of arsenic, and to coal, tar, paraffin, and some types of petroleum products
  • smoking — it may increase the risk of SCC, particularly on the lips

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States.

One in five people in the U.S. may develop skin cancer within their lifetime, and around 9,500 individuals in the country receive a skin cancer diagnosis daily.

The disease more commonly affects white people compared with other races.

In non-Hispanic white people, the melanoma incidence rate is more than 33 in 100,000 individuals per year. In Hispanic people, the rate is 4.5 in 100,000 and 1 in 100,000 for non-Hispanic Black individuals.

In non-Hispanic white people, the rate of skin cancer is nearly 30 times higher than in non-Hispanic Black or Asian or Pacific Islanders.

Additionally, a diagnosis of skin cancer may occur at a later stage in darker skin tones.

People will need to contact a doctor if they notice any atypical skin changes, including any of the following:

  • a new mole or growth
  • a sore that does not heal
  • a change in a mole, such as color, shape, or size
  • a mole with an atypical border and asymmetrical shape
  • a mole larger than the size of a pea
  • itching or bleeding sore on the skin

People can carry out a self-exam each month by thoroughly examining every area of their body for any atypical changes.

Regardless of their risk, individuals can protect themselves from skin cancer by protecting themselves from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.

If someone has concerns about inherited risk factors, they can talk with a dermatologist about skin exams and screening according to their family history and skin type.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about skin cancer and genetics.

What age is a person most likely to get skin cancer?

Being 50 years of age or above increases the risk of melanoma. However, people of any age can get skin cancer.

Younger individuals may also have an increased risk of melanoma if they receive frequent sun exposure without proper protection.

The risk of getting BCC and SCC skin cancers increases as people get older, which may be due to sun exposure over time.

Who is most likely to get skin cancer?

Frequent, unprotected exposure to UV light increases the risk of all types of skin cancer.

People with fair skin, light-colored eyes, freckles, or naturally red or blonde hair are more likely to get the disease.

Having a weakened immune system, such as from chemotherapy or organ transplant drugs, also increases the risk.

A family history of skin cancer may also increase the likelihood of skin cancer due to genetic mutations or a shared family lifestyle of sun exposure.

Who is most likely to get melanoma?

People are more likely to get melanoma if they have:

  • unprotected exposure to UV light
  • many moles
  • atypical moles
  • fair skin, red or blonde hair, light-colored eyes, or freckles
  • skin that sunburns easily
  • a personal or family history of melanoma
  • a weakened immune system
  • certain inherited conditions, such as XP

Skin cancer can run in families. This may be due to genetic mutations and inherited conditions, fair skin within a family, or lifestyle patterns such as increased UV exposure.

If people have concerns about genetic risk factors, they can discuss specific prevention steps with a healthcare professional.