Sun and UV Exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight. Both basal cell and squamous cell cancers (the most common types of skin cancer) tend to be found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and their occurrence is related to lifetime sun exposure. The risk of melanoma, a more serious but less common type of skin cancer, is also related to sun exposure, although perhaps not as strongly. Skin cancer has also been linked to exposure to some artificial sources of UV.

Sun exposure

Basal and squamous cell skin cancer

Many observational studies have looked at the link between basal and squamous cell skin cancers and sun exposure. These studies have found that basal and squamous cell skin cancers are linked to certain behaviors that put people in the sun, as well as a number of markers of sun exposure, such as:

Spending time in the sun for recreation (including going to the beach)
Spending a lot of time in the sun in a swim suit
Living in an area with a high amount of sun
Serious sunburns in the past (with more sunburns linked to a higher risk)
Signs of sun damage to the skin, such as liver spots, actinic keratoses (rough skin patches that can be precancerous), and solar elastosis (thickened, dry, wrinkled skin caused by sun exposure) on the neck Melanoma

Observational studies have also found links between certain behaviors and markers of sun exposure and melanoma of the skin, including:

Activities that lead to “intermittent sun exposure,” like sunbathing, water sports, and taking vacations in sunny places
Previous sunburn
Signs of sun damage to the skin, such as liver spots, actinic keratoses, and solar elastosis
Melanoma of the eye has also been linked to sun exposure in some studies.

Artificial sources of UV

Indoor tanning

Studies have found that people who use tanning beds (or booths) have a higher risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, and squamous and basal cell skin cancers. The risk of melanoma is higher if the person started indoor tanning before age 30 or 35 and the risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancer is higher if indoor tanning started before age 20 or 25.

Some studies have also found a higher risk of melanoma of the eye in people who have used UV tanning beds.

Welding and metal work

Studies have found that welders and sheet metal workers have a higher risk of melanoma of the eye.


People exposed to UVA as a treatment for skin conditions such as psoriasis (as a part of PUVA therapy) have an increased risk of squamous cell skin cancers.

Treatment of skin conditions with UVB alone (not combined with PUVA) has not been linked to an increased risk of cancer.


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