Is fair skin more susceptible to skin cancer?

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The skin is the largest organ on the body. As with other areas of the body, skin is susceptible to cancer.

The National Cancer Institute says there are many different types of skin cancer and that it can appear differently depending on the type and the person. Any changes in skin should be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis typically is.

Individuals also should be aware of what constitutes having a heightened risk for skin cancer. In most cases, that can include the type of skin one has. The Skin Cancer Foundation indicates that skin type is a major factor in risk for skin cancer, including the deadly melanoma. While people with any shade of skin can get skin cancer, those who have fair skin tones are even more at risk for sunburn, sun damage and skin cancer.

In 1975, Harvard Medical School physician Thomas Fitzpatrick created a scientific classification system for skin type, identifying six types of skin. The Fitzpatrick Skin Type chart goes from very light to very dark. Skin types I and II face the highest risk of developing skin cancer, while types V and VI are at the lowest risk. That’s because fair skin doesn’t have as much pigmentation and natural melanin protection from the sun.

In addition to pigmentation, skin type also is calculated by how skin reacts to sun exposure. This means whether one easily burns or easily tans. Fair skin tends to burn easily and tan lightly or not at all.

Even though fair-skinned individuals are at greater for skin cancer, anyone can get the disease. Everyone should use a broad-spectrum daily sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to protect against harmful rays. In addition, wearing sun-protective clothing and avoiding exposure between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is essential.

Individuals concerned about skin cancer risk or unusual changes to their skin should speak with their dermatologists.

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