Be Skin Aware - Who is at higher risk of skin cancer?

With the return of outdoor socialising and warmer weather approaching, many of us are looking forward to a summer spent in the sunshine. To help you stay safe in the sun as we head back outdoors, Check4Cancer is sharing a series of blogs this month on being skin aware. In our first blog, we’re looking at who is at an increased risk of skin cancer?

In the UK, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Rates of the disease are increasing faster than any other cancer, with figures doubling every 10-20 years.1 At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed and over 2,500 people die each year in the UK from skin cancer – that’s 7 people every day.2

Over 80% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or sunbeds. This means that the majority of skin cancers are preventable by undertaking simple sun safety measures. However, some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others, so it is important to understand the risk factors to reduce your chances of getting skin cancer.

Skin Colour or Type

Your skin colour or type is the main factor that determines your risk of sun damage and developing skin cancer. Certain types of skin are at greater risk of sun damage and these people have a higher risk of developing the disease. However, all skin types can be damaged by over-exposure to UV radiation and therefore we are ALL at risk of developing skin cancer.

People at greater risk of developing skin cancer tend to have one or more of the following:

  • Fair skin that burns easily – skin cancer is more prevalent in fair-skinned people because they have less of the protective pigment called melanin.
  • Red or fair hair.
  • Lots of moles and/or freckles – people with many (50+) or large, irregularly shaped and coloured moles are at an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • A history of sunburn – if you have suffered sunburn in the past, especially with blistering or in childhood, you have an increased skin cancer risk.

Family history

Most non-melanoma skin cancers don’t run in families, but research has shown some families have a higher number of skin cancers than normal. However, skin types do run in families. As a result, people from fair-skinned families are at higher risk. Anyone with a family history of melanoma has an increased risk of developing skin cancer.


The risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer increases with age, particularly in those over 50. However, recent research has shown that malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease, is now one of the most common cancers in young adults, aged between 15-34 in the UK.


Short, high intensity exposure to UV light from sunbeds damages the DNA in skin cells. The damage can happen years before cancer develops. The use of sunbeds significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer in the future and they should always be avoided.

At-Risk Groups

Outdoor workers

While occupational risks are inherent in many jobs, people who make a living outdoors are often in the sun and will be subject to an increased threat of skin cancer from repeated over-exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Outdoor sports

Whether playing, watching or enjoying outdoor recreation on a regular basis, not using adequate sun protection can significantly increase your exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays, increasing the risk of skin cancer later in life.

Understanding these key skin cancer risk factors can help you make simple changes to your lifestyle to help protect your skin. Identifying with any of these risk factors does not necessarily mean you will develop skin cancer, but it is important to be aware so you can mitigate the risk. If you are worried about skin cancer, Check4Cancer offers SkinCheck, a skin cancer screening service for anyone aged 18+ who would like the appearance of their skin or moles checked by a skin cancer specialist. Early detection saves lives, book your skin cancer test online today.