Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the main environmental cause of most skin cancers. UV light damages the DNA (genetic material) in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer.
Overexposure to the sun or sunburn in childhood are important risk factors in the development of basal cell cancers. It’s likely that skin damage from UV light during childhood doesn’t 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 lifetime sun exposure is greater. Sun exposure over a lifetime is more significant for squamous cell cancers.
People who work outdoors for a living, such as farm workers, builders and gardeners, are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer because they are often exposed to the sun for long periods of time. This is relevant for both squamous cell and basal cell cancers.
A fair-skinned person who tends to go red or freckle in the sun will be most at risk. Children and young adults who have been overexposed to the sun have an increased risk of developing some form of skin cancer, especially if they have fair skin. This will not show up until later on in life – usually after the age of 40, and often not until the age of 60 or 70. Black- or brown-skinned people have an extremely low risk of developing skin cancer because the pigment melanin in their skin gives them protection.