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Top 3 Causes of Skin Cancer

February 20, 2021 by VitalSkin Dermatology

dermatologist examining moles

Skin cancer is a disease that affects countless people around the world. While there is some understanding in the general population about what causes this form of cancer, there are also some misconceptions. Understanding exactly what causes skin cancer is a key step in preventing the disease. Let’s look at the main causes for skin cancer and how these triggers can lead to different forms of the disease.

There is one main cause of skin cancer, and that is the ultraviolet radiation present in UV rays. People become exposed to these rays in two ways: via sunlight or tanning beds. There are also risk factors that can come into play and increase one’s risk of getting skin cancer.

1. The Sun

Most of us understand that sunlight contains UV rays that can damage the skin and cause skin cancer. What some people don’t realize about ultraviolet (UV) light is that the UV rays in sunlight that reach us come in two forms: UVA and UVB rays.

What are the differences between the two? UVB rays have more energy and can affect and damage DNA in the cells of your skin. They are also the rays that cause the majority of sunburns and are believed to cause most skin cancers.

UVA rays are not entirely innocent, however. In fact, UVA rays can damage skin cell DNA. These rays also are linked to aging in the skin and cause long-term damage like wrinkles. It is believed, too, that they play some role in various skin cancers.

Due to the effects both UVA and UVB rays can have on the skin, it is recommended that you use a broad-spectrum sun protection that works to block out both of these types of ultraviolet (UV) rays.

2. Tanning Beds

At some point along the way, many people began turning to tanning beds as an alternative to tanning in the sun. Tanning beds, however, still use UV rays and therefore, can lead to skin damage and skin cancers. While more convenient than the sun, tanning beds offer many of the same risks as outdoor tanning.

3. Increased Skin Cancer Risk Factors

While UV rays via sunlight or tanning beds are the main triggers behind skin cancer, having certain risk factors can increase your chances to develop skin cancer. Risk factors associated with skin cancer include:

  • Getting more than five sunburns in a lifetime.Having fair skin.
  • Having a family history of skin cancer.
  • Being exposed to certain substances such as arsenic.
  • Living in a sunny climate or at high elevations.

While sunlight and tanning beds are the two main causes of skin cancer and an increase in risk factors can affect your chances of developing the disease, the type and duration of your exposure to UV rays can lead to different types of skin cancers.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, is typically caused by intermittent, intense and cumulative long-term exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is primarily the result of long-term exposure to UV radiation. A distinction with this type of carcinoma is that tanning beds are believed to be as much of a risk factor as sunlight. Anyone who engages in long-term use of tanning beds significantly increases their risk of developing an SCC.


The main cause of melanoma is believed to be intense exposure to sun that causes sunburn. Regular use of tanning beds can also increase the risk of developing melanoma.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

A rare form of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma is caused by a combination of a polyomavirus and exposure to the sun. It is most common in those over the age of 50 with fair skin.

Developing any type of cancer is a cause of concern.  By learning to limit your risks and understanding the causes of skin cancer, you can reduce your chances of developing the condition and increase your chances of diagnosing the condition early on. For more information on the causes of skin cancer and your associated risks, schedule a consultation with a dermatologist today.

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