Are you at risk of skin cancer? 

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and rates continue  to rise. At least 100,000 new cases are now diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK - that's seven people every day. 

Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. It's important to know the main risk factors so you can decide which apply to you and think about if you need to make changes to reduce the risks.

Risk factors 

Skin colour or type

Your skin colour or type is the main factor in your risk of developing skin cancer. People who burn easily in the sun are at increased risk of skin cancer. 

Overexposure to UV radiation in sunlight will cause damage to your skin which increases the risk of skin cancer.


Different types of skin are at greater risk of sun damage, ALL types of skin are susceptible to sun damage, however the paler your skin, the more susceptible you are likely to be to sun damage and skin cancer. 

Having a sun tan does not increase your protection from sun damage. It's your skin type as determined by your genes that matters. 

Brown or black skin is more susceptible to a type of melanoma that is not associated with sun exposure, but appears on the palms, soles, under the nails and in mucosal membranes such as the mouth. These areas should be regularly checked for people with this skin type. 

Light coloured or red hair and blue or green eyes is also a sign that your skin will be more susceptible to sun damage.

Olive, brown or black skin with black or brown hair and brown eyes will not burn so easily or hardly at all. A greater level of protection from sun damage exists, however, it is still recommended to protect your skin from the sun. 

Further risk factors 


If you have suffered severe sunburn in the past, especially with blisters and in childhood, you are at increased risk of skin cancer.

Sunbed use

AVOID! Short, high intensity exposure to UV radiation which is provided by sunbeds is very dangerous and dramatically increases the risk of skin cancer. In Australia, commercial tanning salons are banned because this is so dangerous. 


People with many (more than 50) moles or with unusual moles which are large, irregular shaped or with many colours in them are at increased risk off skin cancer. 

Outdoor work or lifestyle 

People who have a lot of overall exposure to the sun (even without burning) are at increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. Builders, farmers, surfers, gardeners and other people with outdoor occupations or hobbies can develop squamous cell carcinomas when they are quite young. 

Other risk factors

The risk of skin cancer is raised if another family member has had it, and people who have already had one melanoma are at increased risk of getting another one. 

People with damaged immune system (e.g. as a result of a HIV infection or taking immunosuppressive drugs, perhaps after an organ transplant) have an increased chance of getting skin cancer). 


Most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. About once a month, check your skin for moles or marks that are changing or new. This is especially important if you are at increased risk of skin cancer. Tell your doctor about any changes to a mole or patch of skin skin, or a new mole or mark on adult skin. 

More information

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What is skin cancer?    Checking your skin    Stay sun safe