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Fair Skin Cancer Risks

Fair Skin Cancer Risks

  • Basal cell carcinoma


People of Caucasian race, who have a 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.

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 also affect people with fair skin more frequently than others. Sun-blocking products such as specially formulated lotions can be helpful in reducing exposure. Unfortunately, some people use these products in order 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. Any of these should be reported promptly to a healthcare professional for evaluation
If a cancer is found early, the chances are much better 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 oneself from skin cancer include:
  • 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.


Sondak, V.K.;&Margolin, K.A.(1996). Melanoma and other skin cancers in Cancer Management: A Multidisciplinary Approach. PRR: Huntington, NY. Pp. 347-375.

Christine Miaskowski, Patricia Buchsel, Oncology Nursing: Assessment and Clinical Care, Mosby 1999

Second Edition, Guide to Clinical Preventives Services, U. S. Preventive Services Task Force

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