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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Fair Skin Cancer Risks
      Category : Health Centers > Cancers and Tumors

Fair Skin Cancer Risks

Overview & Description

People who have pale skin tone and who freckle have what is called fair skin. They may also have blond, light brown, or red hair and blue, gray or green eyes. People with fair skin do not develop a dark tan. In fact, they may sunburn after relatively brief sun exposure. All these factors add up to an increased risk for developing skin cancer.

What is the information for this topic?

The skin protects itself from sun damage by concentrating pigment in the cells on the surface of the skin. This build-up of pigment is called a "tan," and it helps block the penetration of the energy from sunlight. A tan, however, is not an indication of good health. It actually shows sun damage. People with fair skin do not have large amounts of pigment with which to darken and protect skin surfaces. This makes fair-skinned people more susceptible to skin cancer. The more a person with fair skin is exposed to the sun, the higher the risk will be in later life that skin cancer will develop. Sunburns in young children and adolescents may increase their risk of future skin cancers.

People with fair skin tend to develop the most malignant form of skin cancer, called melanoma. They develop melanoma more often than do people with darker skin. Any part of the skin can be affected, but areas routinely exposed to the sun (arms, legs, head, neck) are most at risk. Less dangerous cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell cancers will also affect people with fair skin more frequently.

Sun-blocking products such as specially formulated lotions can be helpful in reducing exposure. Unfortunately, some people use these products to stay longer in the sun. Prolonging time in the sun greatly increases the risk for skin cancer. It is important to cover the head and body while out in the sun as much as possible. The sun can penetrate light clothing. Decreasing unnecessary time in the sun is the best strategy to protect the skin. It is particularly important for children with fair skin to be protected from blistering sunburn. Sunburn at an early age greatly increases the risk for melanoma later.

People with fair skin should be aware of their increased risks for developing skin cancer. They should be alert for the development of a sore on the skin that does not heal. Other warning signs of skin cancer include changes, such as darkening or irregular growth, in pre-existing moles or other skin lesions. The development of any of these should be reported promptly to a healthcare provider for evaluation. Finding cancer early will help ensure that it can be effectively treated. Monthly skin self-examination and a clinical skin examination every 3 years is recommended for people 20-39 years old and annually for those over 40.

Ways to protect yourself from skin cancer:

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Wear hats with a brim to shade face, ears, neck, and nose.
  • Cover arms, legs, and torso with clothing as much as possible.
  • Cover exposed skin with sunscreen lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.


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    Author: Miriam P. Rogers, EdD, RN, AOCN, CNS
    Reviewer: Fern Carness, RN, MPH
    Date Reviewed: 07/24/01

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