Updated: Sep 14
What are the types of risk factors for any disease?
Today we're going to talk about risk factors in regard specifically to skin cancer. This is the second in a series of skin cancer. If you missed the first one, you can read it here. And this whole series is a way to honor my Dad, Ron Mitchell, who passed away recently from metastatic melanoma. You can learn more here about his amazing life and living another 46 years after being given a poor prognosis.
This is a very important concept to understand for any type of disease whether it is skin cancer, or any cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease just to name a few. There are two types of risk factors: modifiable risk factors and unmodifiable risk factors. And just to be clear, modifiable ones mean that they are ones that you have an influence over them; they are not fixed. And then of course unmodifiable ones are ones that you cannot change, typically it has to do with your genetics or the way you were made. First, just knowing that the two exist is extremely important. Then when you learn about any particular risk factor, it is vital to be able to identify which category it falls under in order to be able to address that particular issue. This blog should empower to identify all those that you can influence in your life to help decrease your risk or those you love of getting a skin cancer diagnosis.
Back specifically to skin cancer, let’s talk about these risk factors for the most common type of cancer.
Skin cancer risk #1: Skin, hair, and eye color:
So those individuals who have have lighter skin or with fair skin or sensitive skin are at increased risk for skin cancer. Going along with this, individuals with red hair, blonde hair or light brown hair also are at increased risk. And then those with blue eyes, green eyes, or grey eyes also have an increased risk.
This somewhat makes sense as typically you find individuals with light or fairer skin have some sort of combination of the above hair and eye color.
So all of this, having light skin, having a certain eye color or red hair (or any of those listed above)...those are unmodifiable risk factors. Even though yes, you can technically change your hair color, this does not actually mean you change your risk. We’re talking about your natural hair and eye color.
Skin cancer risk #2: Family history:
Having a family history of skin cancer: if someone in your family has a history of skin cancer then you are at increased risk of having skin cancer. This also is an unmodifiable risk factor. As much as we like, we can’t change our family, lol.
Interestingly those people that have had melanoma are NINE times more likely to have another melanoma than an individual that has never had a melanoma. Also, individuals that have had the other two types (basal cell and squamous cell) are actually at increased risk of having a melanoma than somebody who's never had any sort of skin cancer.
This makes sense and the same is true for other health issues. An individual that has had a stroke is more likely to have another stroke than an individual that has never had a stroke. So in this way, this also is unmodifiable as we have not yet figured out how to go back in time and alter our own histories.
Skin cancer risk #3: UV light exposure:
Another risk factor is exposure to UV light, so this is a big one! Your exposure to UV light or being out in the sun is what we’re talking about here. In particular whether you've had a history of sunburns; and it’s not just any sunburn, but particularly the kind of sunburn that blisters, and having five or more of those is particularly concerning. However, also having these types of sunburns in your childhood also puts you at increased risk. If you know me very well, I spent A LOT of time out in the sun as a kid (mostly at the lake, I loved to water ski-see below, lol). So parents, please be aware of this and take care of your kids’ skin and teach them to take care of it as well! This is our first MODIFIABLE risk factor; so this one you do have control over this.
Skin cancer risk #4: Use of tanning beds
Another risk factor is a history of indoor tanning, so that is one if you can't tell is completely modifiable; in other words, just don't do indoor tanning. However, in a future blog we’ll talk about prevention and bring this back up.
Skin cancer risk #5: Moles
You are at increased risk if you have a lot of moles and particularly a certain kind. We’ll talk more about this also in a future blog post to learn to identify those that are concerning and what you should do about it! So this one well to some degree it is not modifiable. Your body has the number of moles it has (or develops); however it is possible to have suspicious moles removed but you need to know the signs and then do something about it! So armed with knowledge, it is modifiable!
Skin cancer risk #6: Radiation
Lastly, you are at increased risk for skin cancer if you have a history of exposure to radiation, which I thought was super interesting because radiation is sometimes used as a treatment for cancer. This risk is considered to be small, but the risk increases as the dose of radiation increases. This one to some degree is modifiable as you can be aware of this and try as best as you can to limit your exposure to radiation. However this is obviously not always an option particularly if you need as part of a treatment. Again, though by having this knowledge and being aware that it is a risk factor, you can make an informed decision.
Here is a video about risk factors! Check it out!
So those are the main risk factors for skin cancer. It is important for everyone to know these and understand the difference between a modifiable risk factor and an unmodifiable one. While you can’t change the ones that you have that are unmodifiable, this knowledge can help you to mitigate your risk by being sure to minimize the modifiable ones that you do have control over.
Stay tuned for next time’s blog about what signs to look for with skin cancer.
Do you have a history of skin cancer or a loved one? Please share this with them as it could help to save their life! Was anything surprising? If so comment below and let me know what you learned!
To learn more about skin cancer, you can also visit the following links (and sources utilized):
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