Factors that increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Chronic sun exposure. A lot of time spent in the sun — or in commercial tanning booths — increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma. The threat is greater if you live in a sunny or high-altitude climate, both of which expose you to more UV radiation. The risk is also higher if most of your exposure occurred before the age of 18. Your risk is greater if you have had at least one blistering sunburn.
  • Exposure to radiation. Psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) treatments for psoriasis may increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer. Having undergone radiation treatments for childhood acne or other conditions also may increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma.
  • Fair skin. If you have very light skin or you freckle or sunburn easily, you're more likely to develop skin cancer than is someone with a darker complexion. Basal cell carcinoma is rare in black people.
  • Your sex. Men are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than women are.
  • Your age. Because basal cell carcinomas often take decades to develop, the majority of basal cell carcinomas occur in people age 50 or older.
  • A personal or family history of skin cancer. If you've had basal cell carcinoma one or more times, you have a good chance of developing it again. If you have a family history of skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.
  • Immune-suppressing drugs. Taking medications that suppress your immune system, especially after transplant surgery, significantly increases your risk of skin cancer. Cancers in people with a weakened immune system generally are more aggressive than they are in otherwise healthy people.
  • Exposure to arsenic. Arsenic, a toxic metal that's found widely in the environment, increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma and other cancers. Everyone has some arsenic exposure because it occurs naturally in the soil, air and groundwater. But people who may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic include farmers, refinery workers, and people who drink contaminated well water or live near smelting plants.
  • Inherited syndromes that cause skin cancer. Certain rare genetic diseases increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma. Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (Gorlin-Goltz syndrome) causes numerous basal cell carcinomas, as well as pitting on the hands and feet and spine abnormalities. Xeroderma pigmentosum causes an extreme sensitivity to sunlight and a high risk of skin cancer because people with this condition have little or no ability to repair damage to the skin from ultraviolet light.
Sep. 07, 2013