Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the main cause of most skin cancers. UV light damages the DNA (genetic material) in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer.
Being exposed to too much sun or getting sunburnt as a child are important risk factors for developing BCCs or SCCs. It is likely that skin damage from UV light during childhood does not show up until many years later.
Skin cancer is more common than it used to be. This is because people are living longer, so their exposure to the sun over their lifetime is greater. Sun exposure over a long time can cause both types of skin cancer. But it is more strongly linked with developing an SCC.
People who work outdoors for a living, such as farm workers, builders and gardeners, are more at risk of developing skin cancer. This is because they are often exposed to the sun for long periods of time.
People with pale-skin who tend to go red or freckle in the sun will be most at risk. Children and young adults who have been over-exposed to the sun have an increased risk of developing some forms of skin cancer, especially if they have pale skin.
Skin cancer will usually show up later in life. It often happens after the age of 40, but it is more common in older age. However, the number of younger people developing skin cancer is also rising.
People with darker or black skin have a very low risk of getting BCCs and SCCs. This is because they have a pigment in their skin called melanin, which gives them protection. But although the risk is much lower, they can still get BCCs and SCCs.
Actinic keratosis (AK), also called solar keratosis, is a crusty skin growth caused by damage from exposure to UV light.
Usually, AK affects mainly the face, scalp and hands. If left untreated for many years, AK may sometimes develop into SCC.