Basal Cell Carcinoma Prevention & Risk Factors

Basal Cell Carcinoma Prevention & Risk Factors


What is My Risk for Basal Cell Carcinoma?

These are the risk factors for basal cell carcinoma:

  • Sun exposure.
  • Fair skin.
  • Personal history of skin cancer.
  • Radiation from cancer treatment.
  • Exposure to industrial compounds.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Age.

Sun Exposure

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the major risk factor for skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma. The radiation reaches you by invisible rays from the sun. The 2 kinds of UV radiation are UVB and UVA.

UVB radiation causes sunburns and blistering. Scientists think UVB causes most skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma most often starts in people who were exposed to UVB radiation during childhood and adolescence, especially if they had sunburns or blistering. People who work outside, spend time at the beach, or do outdoor sports have a higher risk for skin cancer.

UVA radiation also causes skin damage. UVA rays can travel through glass and clouds. Exposure to UVA rays can lead to early aging and skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Sun lamps and tanning beds also cause exposure to harmful UVA rays. You should avoid them.

Fair Skin

You’re at higher risk of getting skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, if you have any of these:

  • Fair skin.
  • Blue or light-colored eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.

People with fair skin have less melanin, a skin pigment. Melanin gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. It also gives some natural protection from the sun. However, people with dark skin, who have more melanin, can still get basal cell carcinoma. Skin that freckles or sunburns easily can be a warning sign you’re at risk for basal cell carcinoma.

Personal History of Skin Cancer

You’re at higher risk of getting skin cancer again if you already have had skin cancer. Nearly half of people who had basal cell carcinoma got another skin cancer within 5 years.

Radiation from Cancer Treatment

You’re at higher risk for basal cell carcinoma if you had radiation treatment. It may start 5 to 15 years later in in the area that was treated.

Exposure to Industrial Compounds

Less common risk factors include long-time exposure to:

  • Radiation
  • Coal tar
  • Arsenic
  • Other industrial compounds

Weakened Immune System

People with a weakened immune system are at higher risk for basal cell carcinoma. This includes people who have HIV, lymphoma, or leukemia. It also includes people who are getting chemotherapy, or drugs to prevent organ transplant rejection.


It usually takes a long time from when your skin was exposed to harmful UV rays and when basal cell carcinoma starts. This means older people are at a greater risk of getting the disease. As you age, it’s also harder for your body to fix damage from the sun. This increases your cancer risk.

Skin Cancer Prevention

The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to avoid ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s rays. We recommend you:

  • Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
  • Protect yourself from sun rays by wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen. Broad spectrum means it blocks both types of UV rays (UVA and UVB). 
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. Do this even on cloudy days and in the winter.
  • Apply a thick layer of sunscreen, about 2 tablespoons, on your face and body.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, toweling, or sweating.
  • Stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when rays are the strongest.
  • Get into the shade whenever possible.
  • Do not use indoor tanning machines.


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