Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Does my pale skin make it more likely that I will get skin cancer?"
I'm very pale, it runs in my family. Whenever I'm in the sun I burn bad if I don't use sunscreen. Does this mean I have a higher risk of skin cancer? Should I get my moles and freckles checked out by a doctor regularly?
Questions about sun exposure, sun protection, and skin cancer risk should always be discussed with your primary care physician. He or she can take a more detailed family history as well as your own personal history of sun exposure along with a physical exam to identify any suspicious moles that should be evaluated by a dermatologist. In general, people with pale skin, light hair, and blue eyes (often associated with Northern European ancestry) are at a higher risk of skin cancer secondary to UV radiation exposure from the sun than people with darker complexion. Your personal risk of skin cancer is also related to the amount of sun exposure you have had, including the number of blistering sunburns. People with either a high genetic risk of skin cancers or extensive sun exposure should generally be seen for annual skin exams by a dermatologist. In addition, in order to protect your skin it is important that you wear sunscreen with adequate UV protection whenever you are going outside. It can be a good idea to invest in a facial moisturizer with sunscreen to make sure that your face is always protected. Finally, it is recommended that everyone avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the intensity of UV radiation is at its peak. If you do need to go outside during those hours, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves is the best thing to do for the health of your skin. Again, please see your doctor for more information.
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