How to know if you are at risk of skin cancer

You’ve had it for years; either a birth-mark or a sun spot or whatever, but how could you know if you are headed for the dreaded C?  Depending on your risk profile you might want to give that golden brown sun tan a skip this summer…


Basically two types of skin cancer exist; disfiguring and lethal.  The one you should be worried about, is melanoma because it will do both.  Even the famous reggae singer Bob Marley succumbed to the disease.  Skin cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer as it penetrates the skin and spreads fast and aggressively.  If you happen to have squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC) or basal-cell carcinoma (BCC), you are one of the luckier ones, as they rarely kill but do disfigure.  The latest figures suggest that one in every 75 people worldwide will get this cancer.  They used to be rather predictable too; fairer skinned senior citizens.  That is changing.  More and more young people with even darker skin are at risk nowadays.


Everyone is at risk of skin cancer, but to what degree?  Take this test to determine yours.

  1. Are you a male? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

Although men are normally more prone to any type of cancer, this relates more to men who take their shirts off at every given opportunity allowing more sun exposure.


  1. Are you white/Caucasian? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

If you are black or darker skinned, you may have an advantage.  The darker pigment-melanin- in their skin acts as a built in sunscreen helping to avoid damage to the epidermis layers deep down.


  1. Are you a “ginger” (red hair) Yes[  ]  No[  ]

If you are then you have up to four-times greater risk of developing skin cancer.  The gene responsible for red hair is predominant throughout their skin and this provides less protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays.


  1. Do you family have a history of skin cancer? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

Skin cancer especially, gets handed down through the generations.  Researched has shown that this might be due to e defective gene.


  1. Did you ever have a bad sunburn as a child? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

This more than doubles your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.  This is because damaged DNA needs time to morph into cancer.


  1. Have you ever used a sunbed? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

Dartmouth researchers have found that if you have ever paid for your tan you are up to 1.5 times more likely to develop basal-cell carcinoma, and 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous-cell carcinoma. Why?  Sunbeds use concentrated doses of UV light.


  1. Are you a current or ex-smoker? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

If you are an ex-smoker you are twice as likely to develop skin cancer than, your non-smoking peers.  If you are still smoking this more than triples your risk of developing SCC.


  1. Do you live at high altitude? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

This is easy, if you live at high altitudes the air is thinner so more UV radiation reaches your skin.


  1. Do you have a lot of moles or freckles? Yes[  ]  No[  ]

Moles can mutate into bigger problems, melanoma.  If you have more than 50 moles on your body, see a dermatologist.  Freckles rarely become cancerous, but they’re a sign of a pigment defect and thus increasing your risk of skin cancer.


  1. Does your job require you to work outside?

There is incredible potential for DNA damage if you are exposed to more than 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, of UV rays.



No to all of the above:  LOW risk

Yes to one or two of the above:  ELEVATED risk

Yes to three or more of the above:  HIGH risk


Author: Shaun De Kock

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