Skin cancer is estimated to develop in one in five Americans over the course of their lifetimes. Given skin cancer’s prevalence, it’s not surprising that many people have questions about its risk factors. While UV light exposure remains the biggest risk factor for skin cancer, genetics may play a role in the development of this condition. 

Here, we’ll discuss how gene mutations and a family history of skin cancer can increase your likelihood of developing the condition. 

Gene Mutations

Multiple genetic mutations have been identified as risk factors for melanoma. Mutations in the CDKN2A gene, which is a tumor suppressor gene, occur in 40% of familial melanoma cases. This may also be referred to as the p16 mutation. Additionally, mutations in the MC1E gene can lead to red hair and fair skin, which are characteristics also known to increase one’s risk of melanoma. These gene mutations may be tested for in individuals with a significant family history of melanoma. 

Family History

One in 10 patients with skin cancer has a family member who has also had this condition. So, genetics do play a role in skin cancer. If one of your immediate biological family members has had skin cancer, you’re at a heightened risk of developing it. This risk also increases if you have many atypical moles, meaning that the mole is asymmetrical, has an irregular border, varies in color, has a diameter of 6 mm or more, or has evolved.

When an individual has both a family history of skin cancer and atypical moles, they have what is called familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, or FAMMM. Those with FAMMM have a 17.3 times higher risk of developing melanoma.  

Early detection of skin cancer remains the most effective way to ensure a successful recovery. Especially if you have a family history of skin cancer, schedule an annual skin cancer screening to identify any signs of cancer as soon as possible.