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Look Beyond the Sun for Skin Cancer Culprits

Tanning beds, organ transplants and smoking among additional risk factors

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 21 (HealthDay News) -- Think "skin cancer" and blame immediately goes to the sun. Justifiably so -- though not totally, skin doctors say.

"Hands down, sun exposure is the biggest risk factor for skin cancer," said Dr. Sherrif Ibrahim, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "And it's a cumulative risk. The more exposure you've gotten, the bigger the risk. The skin doesn't know if you're out one time for an hour or 12 times for 5 minutes at a time. Your skin keeps a running meter."

That's important to know as summer officially begins, according to skin health experts at the American Academy of Dermatology.

Each year, more than 3.5 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers, known as non-melanoma cancers, are diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. These types of skin cancer aren't as deadly as melanoma, which affects about 75,000 U.S. residents annually. About 9,000 people die from melanomas and 2,000 from non-melanoma skin cancers each year, according to the society.

However, the sun isn't the only thing that can be problematic. Tattoos, certain chemicals, other diseases and possibly even those better-for-the-environment light bulbs all have been linked to skin cancer.

And people who think tanning beds are safer than soaking up the sun should think again, Ibrahim suggested.

"There's an unquestionable link between tanning booths and skin cancer," Ibrahim said. "There's been an enormous surge in the popularity of tanning booths, and with it the average age of people with melanomas is much lower. I had a 22-year-old patient just the other day."

This is because it doesn't matter if the ultraviolet light comes from the sun or from an artificial source. Dr. Alan Fleischer, a dermatology professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., explained that "the kind of light produced by tanning beds isn't better or worse than natural sunshine, but people may get more and longer exposure, especially in areas where outside, they might display more modesty."

Even getting a manicure can expose you to ultraviolet light.

"Ultraviolet nail treatment units do produce UV light, but the risk is quite small," said Fleischer. The lights are used to help gel or regular polishes set or harden.

Despite the low risk, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends putting sunscreen on your hands before you get a manicure.

Even things that seem unrelated to UV light -- such as getting an organ transplant or a tattoo, or having an autoimmune disease -- have been linked to skin cancer diagnoses.

People who've had an organ transplant have an extremely elevated risk for skin cancer -- up to 200 times higher than others, according to Ibrahim.

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