What causes skin cancer?

The most important factor affecting your risk of developing skin cancer is long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds. UV radiation damages skin cells and may lead to malignant changes. UV exposure from the sun can affect the skin even when it’s cloudy and overcast.

When skin is exposed to a significant amount of UV radiation, it will tan and/or burn. These visible changes in the skin are reflections of damage to individual skin cells. UV damage to skin cells may lead to malignant transformation of these cells, which then can progress to skin cancer.

Skin cancer prevalence is in direct proportion to cumulative UV damage – i.e. the more skin exposure you have had during your life, the higher your risk for developing skin cancer. While sunburns clearly increase a person’s risk for developing skin cancer, damage can occur even without burning.

Tanning beds pose another serious risk because they deliver high-intensity UV radiation directly to the skin. Studies have shown that the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, increases drastically with tanning bed use. There is no safe amount or type of tanning bed exposure.