Learn about the different factors that affect your risk for developing squamous cell skin cancer.


Risk factors for squamous cell skin cancer include:

  • Cumulative, unprotected exposure to sunlight or other UV radiation. UV exposure during childhood and adolescence is a bigger risk factor than exposure during adulthood. Nevertheless, people who work outdoors or spend a lot of their leisure time outside are also at high risk. See An Ounce of Prevention
  • Fair (light) skin. But this doesn’t mean people of colour can’t develop squamous cell skin cancer. See Fact vs Fiction
  • Male sex (men are three times more likely than women to develop squamous cell skin cancer)
  • A history of previous skin cancers
  • A history of actinic keratoses (scaly spots on sun-damaged skin)
  • Older age (the average age when people develop squamous cell skin cancer is approximately 65)
  • Infection with the human papilloma virus
  • Immunosuppression. Organ transplant patients, patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, and certain patients with blood cancer are examples of at-risk groups. In fact, depending on the type of organ transplant and the immunosuppression regimen, organ transplant recipients are 65-250 times more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer than the general population
  • Certain genetic mutations. These include albinism (lack of colour in hair, skin, or eyes) and xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a condition in which the body can’t repair damage to DNA caused by the sun
  • Exposure to certain toxic chemicals (arsenic; carcinogens in tar, pitch, soot, etc.)
  • Smoking

An Ounce of Prevention:

Skin cancer can strike anyone. In fact, nearly one in five people in the United Kingdom will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Most skin cancer cases in the United Kingdom 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.

Fact vs Fiction: I have darker skin, so that means I can’t get squamous cell skin cancer.

FICTION. While squamous cell skin cancer occurs less frequently in black, East Asian, and South Asian patients than in lighter-skinned individuals, it is the most common skin cancer in people of colour. It can also be more dangerous in these populations. For example, the mortality (death rate) from squamous cell skin cancer is 18% in black patients. Why would this be the case? The first reason is that the diagnosis is often delayed. Often, when people with pigmented skin seek treatment, their skin cancer is more advanced and less treatable. The second reason is it frequently presents on sites of scars, trauma, or compromised skin in these populations. As we will discuss more in Staging, tumour location on these damaged skin sites is associated with worse outcomes. So, please be sure to get skin checks if you are a person of colour! And be particularly careful to protect scars/damaged skin in the sun.