What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin.

There are several types of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and if left untreated will cause serious illness and death.

The most common risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), whether from the sun or from tanning beds. Ultraviolet radiation is carcinogenic to humans, meaning that it causes cancer.


UVR and Skin Cancer

Though there are genetic factors that contribute to your risk of skin cancer, the most common cancers are strongly associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR).

UVR causes damage to DNA and cell functions. This damage can show itself immediately as a tan or sunburn, though cells can be damaged even if neither of these is observed.

Skin cells have repair mechanisms, but they are not perfect.

Some skin cells die as a consequence of being too damaged to repair, but the biggest problem comes when some of the DMA damage is not repaired and the cells become defective.


  • International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2012). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans – Volume 100: A Review of Human Carcinogens, Part D: Radiation. World Health Organization,  IARC: Lyon.

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