Skin Cancer: Are you at Risk?

Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

It’s a trick question!

From the smallest, easily removed basal cell carcinoma, to a more serious melanoma that can spread internally (think Bob Marley’s cause of death), people of all races and skin color are at some risk of getting skin cancer.  A staggering 1 in 5 people will develop some version of skin cancer in their lifetime. Think about it, that’s likely multiple people in your family and circle of friends!

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), in 2014 almost 10,000 people died from melanoma, and over 75,000 people were diagnosed with it that year. Those numbers don’t account for other types of skin cancer like squamous cell and basal cell! Way too many people are getting diagnosed with skin cancer, and it’s on the rise in younger people, especially women in their 20s and 30s.

Important risk factors for skin cancer.

First, let’s figure out if you’re particularly at risk. We’ve created a list of the biggest risk factors for skin cancer.  Every factor is an added risk, so add them up. If you meet more than two of the criteria, then you’re at a higher risk than the average person.

  • Lightness of skin/hair/eyes—If you have pale skin, blond or red hair, or blue or green eyes then you are at higher risk for all types of skin cancer. If you don’t have these features but you do freckle or burn easily you’re in the same higher-risk category.
  • Family and personal history—This one may seem like a no-brainer; if anyone in your family has had skin cancer, or if you yourself have already had it, then you are at higher risk.
  • History of excessive exposure to UV light—Did you use tanning beds while prepping for high school prom? Or did you lather baby oil, Crisco, Coca Cola (yeah, some people tried that!), or any other product on your skin in the past to get a deeper tan? If this sounds like you then you are at higher risk.
  • History of bad burns —Did you get burns that resulted in blistering when you were a child or teenager. If so, this is a risk factor.
  • Moles—if you have many moles and, in particular, atypical moles with irregular borders (not circular) or irregular pigmentation (lighter in some areas, darker in others), or changing moles, then you may be at increased risk for skin cancer, particularly melanoma.

If you have changes in your skin or moles you should visit a dermatologist.  If not, the next step is to get educated so you can be smart in the sun. That’s why we’ve created a series of sun-smart articles all in one place at SuperFoodsRx. Check out our other sun-related articles below and you’ll be in the know on sun protection.

Get Sun Smart—The Truth About SPF Ratings and Your Summer In The Sun


Reed, et al, April 2012, Increasing Incidence of Melanoma Among Young Adults, Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Centers for Disease Control, 2017, Skin Cancer Statistics.

Centers for Disease Control, 2017, Skin Cancer Risk Factors.

American Academy of Dermatology, 2017, Skin Cancer Incidence Rates.


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