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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Look Beyond the Sun for Skin Cancer Culprits

Tanning beds, organ transplants and smoking among additional risk factors
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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.

This stems from the medications that must be taken after a transplant to suppress the immune system. As a result, the immune system, which normally fights off growing cancer cells, may not be strong enough to do its job.

Organ transplant recipients should talk to a dermatologist to get an idea of their baseline risk for skin cancer and find out how often they need to be screened. Ibrahim said that some high-risk people who've had organ transplants need screening every three to four weeks.

Although tattoos aren't known to increase the risk for skin cancer, tattoos can make it harder to detect cancer-related changes in moles. If you're considering a tattoo, make sure there aren't any moles in the area you're thinking about inking, according to experts from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Like people who've had an organ transplant, those with autoimmune diseases often take medications that suppress their immune system. These drugs can also increase their chances of developing skin cancer, Fleischer said.

The experts also pointed out other potential sources of skin cancer risk, including:

  • Compact fluorescent bulbs: These "eco-friendly" lightbulbs emit ultraviolet light, which normally isn't a problem because of a coating on the bulbs. However, if there's a crack in the coating, UV light can come through. A study in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology showed that these bulbs can emit some UV light, but no one has yet shown a link to skin cancer.
  • Previous radiation: Areas of skin that have been exposed to radiation, such as that used for treatment of other types of cancer, have an increased risk for skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Parkinson's disease: A study in the Archives of Neurology found an increased risk for melanoma in people with Parkinson's disease. The authors, whose research was published in September 2012, suspect that some of the genes that cause Parkinson's disease may also give rise to skin cancers.
  • Smoking: Researchers also suspect a link between cigarette smoking and skin cancer. Two studies -- one published in June 2012 in the Archives of Dermatology and the other in December 2011 in the journal Cancer Causes and Control -- found that squamous cell cancer was more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
  • Chemical exposure: Workplace exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. These chemicals include arsenic, which is found naturally in well water and is used in the manufacture of some pesticides, as well as tar, coal, paraffin, and some types of oil.
  • Driving: Fleischer said that in the United States, skin cancers are much more common on the left side of the body because of the time spent driving. In Europe, more cancers occur on the right side. And, though he said he hasn't seen any studies on it, he suspects that people who regularly drive convertibles probably have higher rates of skin cancer because of increased exposure.

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