By Kristine Willis
Everyone is susceptible to skin cancer, however some have significantly higher risks of developing skin cancer based on the genes their parents pass to them. Some inherit specific genes directly related to causing skin cancer while others have a dramatically increased risk of developing skin cancer when UV exposure is combined with genes that affect physical attributes or cause related medical conditions. Be aware of your medical history and your potential increased propensity toward skin cancer.
The American Academy of Dermatology cites three factors in particular when combined with UV exposure (whether via the sun or tanning beds) that are potentially lethal cocktails and require extra diligence in UV protection:
- Light, Fair Skin (especially with light hair and/or eye color)
- Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome (inherited medical condition)
- Xeroderma Pigmentosum (inherited medical condition)
Light Skin. Light skin leaves a person more susceptible to potential UV damage. The lighter the skin, the more easily UV rays are absorbed. The darker the skin, the more natural resistance to UV absorption a person has. The same principle applies to clothing. Lighter colored clothing absorbs more UV rays while darker clothing absorbs less and reflects more. Our bodies have the ability to heal (sunburns are the body’s attempt to shield the skin from additional UV absorption) but if UV damage consistently occurs, the body’s natural defenses will break down and skin cancer will very likely develop.
Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome. This inherited medical condition affects the skin, nervous system, eyes, bones and some glands often resulting in the development of many basal cell skin cancers in patients before the age of 30. Basal skin cancers are located in the outer layers of the skin exposed to the sun; rarely spread to other parts of the body; and are the most common skin cancers accounting for about 80% of all skin cancers.
Avoiding the sun is imperative for those diagnosed with basal cell nevus syndrome. When UV exposure cannot be avoided, skin protection must be maximized. Protective clothing, sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection (from UVA and UVB rays) and sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection should be worn (don’t forget your eyes!).
Xeroderma Pigmentosum. This inherited medical condition restricts the body’s ability to repair damage caused by UV exposure. Avoiding the sun is an absolute necessity as people with this condition have such an extreme sensitivity to UV light exposure that their chances of developing skin cancer are 1000 times greater than those without the condition. Most afflicted with xeroderma pigmentosum have skin cancer by the age of 8 with life expectancy dramatically decreasing for these patients.
Protect Yourself and Our Children
Overall, the AAD tells us that about 10% of those who develop melanoma (the deadliest form accounting for about 4% of all skin cancers) have inherited genes that cause skin cancer. Studies have shown that the other 90% of melanoma cases (and most other skin cancers) are not caused by inherited genes. This is a big indicator of how preventable the majority of skin cancers are. Experts tell us that about 80% of the sun damage that will be done to the skin is done before the age of 18.
While education and awareness are increasing, skin cancer rates in the U.S. are still climbing significantly in sharp contrast to many other cancers with declining rates in the U.S. Those who are prone to skin cancer and have higher risk indicators should consult their doctors or dermatologists regularly.
About the Author: Kristine Willis represents UV Skinz UPF 50+ protective swimshirts for babies, kids and adults. As a skin cancer patient herself, she is a staunch advocate of UV protective clothing as a necessity, not a luxury.