Being safe in the sun is the best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancers can be divided into two main groups: melanoma and non-melanoma. In the UK, in 2019 there were 17,845 cases (9,091 cases for men, 8,754 cases for women) of melanoma; making it the fourth most common cancer for men, and the fifth most common cancer for women*.
The number of people diagnosed per year with either type of skin cancer is projected to increase over the next 20 years.
The primary cause of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers is through exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays; this can be directly from the sun or through tanning devices.
The evidence that overexposure to the sun causes skin cancer has been consistent for decades. However, many people still don’t protect themselves from the sun, putting themselves at increased risk of skin cancer.
The role of sun damage is supported by the association between measures of sun sensitivity and skin cancer incidence, which is higher in people who have pale skin that burns without tanning, blue eyes and fair hair.
The chance of developing skin cancer is also higher the greater the number of times you have been sun-burnt (during childhood, adolescence or adulthood).
Unlike many other cancers, diet and exercise patterns do not appear to be strongly associated with your risk of skin cancer.
We want to remind people that there are simple but important steps you can take to prevent yourself from developing skin cancer. It’s therefore important for everyone to be safe in the sun; whether at home or abroad.
The NHS has a number of sun safety tips which include spending time in the shade between 11 am and 3 pm during March to October, using at least factor 30 sunscreen and covering up with suitable clothing including a hat and sunglasses.
While sun exposure is still the greatest risk factor for skin cancer, our research has shown there is strong evidence that:
There is limited evidence that:
This information is based on research from our Global Cancer Update Programme (CUP Global).
Medicines used to suppress the immune system after organ transplantation are associated with increased risk of skin cancers, particularly squamous cell carcinoma.
Infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause squamous cell carcinomas of the skin, especially in people whose immune systems are compromised.
People living with HIV are at higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma (a type of cancer that can involve the skin).
Exposure to specific chemicals used in the plastic and chemical industries – polychlorinated biphenyls – is strongly associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.
Some rare mutations in specific genes can lead to skin cancer. Having a family history of skin cancer also increases the risk.
Skin cancer is more common in lighter-skinned populations than in darker-skinned populations.