Learn about the different factors that affect your risk for developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC).


Risk factors for BCC include:

  • Exposure to UV radiation, whether its from the sun or indoor tanning beds/sunlamps. See An Ounce of Prevention
  • Older age
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as the radiation generated during medical imaging procedures like X rays
  • Fair complexion, hair, and eyes. Examples are: skin that easily burns or rarely tans; sun-sensitive skin that freckles easily; natural blonde or red hair; blue or green eyes. These are typically markers of sensitivity to UV light. But this doesn’t mean people of colour can’t develop basal cell carcinoma. See Fact vs Fiction
  • A weakened immune system, particularly in patients receiving immunosuppressive regimens after undergoing organ transplantation
  • Exposure to PUVA (taking a medicine called psoralen, then being exposed to UV light as a treatment for psoriasis)
  • Certain genetic mutations (for more on these groups, see A Common Question)
  • Exposure to arsenic in your food or water

An Ounce of Prevention:

Skin cancer can strike anyone. In fact, nearly one in five people in the UK will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are caused by UV light exposure. Practicing sun safety and avoiding indoor tanning are key steps to reducing the number of cases of skin cancer. To learn more about how to protect yourself from the dangers of UV radiation, see SUN SAFETY.

Fact vs Fiction:

I have darker skin, so that means I can’t develop BCC.

FICTION. While people with fairer skin are at the highest risk of skin cancer overall, BCC is the most common skin cancer in Hispanic and Asian people and the second most common in black people. BCCs can be more brownish in colour in darker-skinned people, which may make these tumours harder to recognize, resulting in delayed identification and treatment. For more about skin cancer precautions in people of colour, check out https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common/melanoma/skin-color

A Common Question:

If one of my parents or grandparents have had BCC, am I at higher risk?

Answer: While the risk of melanoma is increased among people who have a close relative with melanoma, there is little evidence that having a relative with BCC increases your risk of developing one. While there are a few genetic syndromes that cause defects in the pathways our body uses to protect us from or repair DNA damage that are associated with a high risk of BCC, the major risk factor for BCC is exposure to ultraviolet light.