Check your risk for skin cancer


reviewed 9/24/2018

Skin cancer risk assessment

Answering the following questions can help you learn more about your risk for skin cancer.

Note: This assessment is not intended to be a substitute for a visit with your healthcare provider.

What is your hair color?

Blond or red. Blond- and red-haired people have more risk than people with brown or black hair. So it's especially important for you to practice safe sun habits.

Brown. People with brown hair are somewhat less likely than people with blond or red hair to get skin cancer. But don't be too confident. It will still pay to protect your skin from the sun's penetrating rays.

Black. People with black hair have a lower risk for developing skin cancer than people with brown, red or blond hair. (Dyeing your hair black doesn't count!)

What color are your eyes?

Brown. Brown-eyed people are less likely than people with blue, green or hazel eyes to get skin cancer.

Hazel. People who have hazel eyes are less likely than blue-eyed and green-eyed people to develop skin cancer. But you aren't immune from sun damage, so take care when you work and play in the great outdoors.

Blue or green. Blue or green eyes often go with fair skin. And each of these traits is a risk factor for skin cancer. You'll need to take extra care to protect yourself from the sun by staying inside during the hottest, sunniest part of the day and protecting your skin (including your head and ears) with sunscreen and clothing.

How many freckles do you have?

Many. Having many freckles indicates that you are at high risk for skin cancer. Give your skin a break and cover up when you're outside.

Some. Having some freckles means you need to be cautious about spending a lot of time in the sun without protection. You're at some risk, but not the highest risk.

None. If you have no freckles, your risk for skin cancer is low. But that doesn't mean you can't get cancer—just that it's less likely for you than for folks with lots of freckles.

When exposed to 1 hour of summer sun, does your skin:

Burn, sometimes blister. People with fair complexions that burn or blister easily are at high risk for cancer. To protect your skin, cover it up with clothing and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on any exposed areas.

Burn and then tan. Having skin that burns and then tans puts you at increased risk for skin cancer. To protect your skin, cover it up with clothing and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on any exposed areas.

Tan. Natural tanners are at lower risk for developing skin cancer. But no one is totally without risk. And it pays to protect your skin for a number of reasons. Tanning can cause dry, leathery skin and early wrinkles.

Has anyone in your family had skin cancer?

Yes. About 10 percent of people with melanoma have a family member with the disease. A family history of skin cancer doesn't mean you will get the disease, but it increases your risk.

No. You run less risk of developing skin cancer than people who may have inherited a gene for it. But take nothing for granted. People who don't have a family history do get skin cancer.

Do you work indoors or outdoors?

Outdoors. An outdoor job increases your risk for skin cancer unless you protect yourself with appropriate clothing, including a hat to cover your head and ears and sunglasses to protect your eyes. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is also in order.

Indoors. Your job doesn't put you at risk, but be careful on weekends when you're outside more—especially if you have traits such as fair skin, light eyes and hair, and a tendency to sunburn.

Some of both. This is tricky, since you may be in and out all day. To reduce your risk, use sunscreen on exposed skin. Keep a hat handy when you need to go out.

In what part of the United States did you live most before age 18?

North. Since the sun's rays are stronger in the southern United States than in the north, skin cancer risk is higher for people who grew up in southern regions.

Midwest. Since the sun's rays are stronger in the southern United States than in the north, skin cancer risk is higher for people who grew up in southern regions.

South. Since the sun's rays are stronger in the southern United States than in the north, skin cancer risk is higher for people who grew up in southern regions.

Based on your answers, you are at low risk for skin cancer.

This is good news. However, anyone can get skin cancer, even if they're at low risk. So it's still important for you to limit sun exposure and protect your skin with clothing and sunscreen.

Also, check your skin regularly for changes, such as new bumps, sores that won't heal, and moles with irregular borders and discoloration. If you find any of these, contact a doctor right away. Skin cancer is most treatable when it's found early.

Remember, tools such as this assessment are not intended to be a substitute for a conversation with your healthcare provider.

[OR]

Based on your answers, you are at average risk for skin cancer.

This is good news. However, anyone can get skin cancer, even if they’re at low risk. So it’s still important for you to limit sun exposure and protect your skin with clothing and sunscreen.

Also, check your skin regularly for changes, such as new bumps, sores that won’t heal, and moles with irregular borders and discoloration. If you find any of these, contact a doctor right away. Skin cancer is most treatable when it’s found early.

Remember, tools such as this assessment are not intended to be a substitute for a conversation with your healthcare provider.

OR

Based on your answers, you are at very high risk for skin cancer.

Your risk factors make it especially important for you to do all you can to protect yourself from skin cancer. Just think of your risk level as extra incentive to practice sun protection measures such as covering your skin (including head and neck) with protective clothing and wearing sunscreen on exposed skin, even on cloudy days.

Being at very high risk for skin cancer doesn’t mean that you will get the disease. But you should check your skin regularly for suspicious growths. Watch out for changes, such as sores that won’t heal, and moles with irregular borders and discoloration. Report suspicious changes to your doctor right away. When found in its early stages, skin cancer is highly treatable.

Remember, tools such as this assessment are not intended to be a substitute for a conversation with your healthcare provider.

For more information, visit the following websites:

American Academy of Dermatology

American Melanoma Foundation 

National Cancer Institute

Skin Cancer Foundation

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; American Melanoma Foundation

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