Excessive exposure to sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing mutations. Sunlamps, tanning booths, and X-rays also generate UV rays that can damage skin and cause cancerous cell mutations. One blistering sunburn during childhood appears to double a person's risk for developing melanoma later in life.
Fair-skinned people (especially those with red or blond hair, blue eyes, and pigment disorders such as albinism) are most susceptible because they are born with the least amount of protective melanin. People with many freckles or moles, particularly abnormal-looking ones, may also be vulnerable to melanoma.
Workers regularly exposed to coal tar, radium, inorganic arsenic compounds in insecticides, and certain other carcinogens are at slightly higher than normal risk for non-melanoma skin cancer.
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