Is Skin Cancer Hereditary?

Skin cancer, or the cancerous growth of skin cells, results from exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Too much time spent in sunlight or over usage of UV tanning beds may expose your skin to harmful UV rays, which can alter the DNA of your skin cells by inducing mutation. Due to these mutations occurring in your skin (somatic) cells, they lose their property of contact inhibition and start multiplying out of control. 

Cancer usually starts from the topmost layer of human skin: the epidermis, and then spreads to the inner layers. 

Generally, UV radiations are the mutagens (cancer-causing agents) that lead to skin cancer. Still, various scientific researches have proved the involvement of other factors such as genetics in promoting skin cancer. 

Considering the role of genes in almost everything ranging from our skin colour to our enzyme activity, let’s try to inspect the role of genetics in skin cancer in this very article.

How Common Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is deemed the most common variant of cancer in today’s world, accounting for 40% of cancer cases worldwide. Based on epidemiological data, there are two basic types of skin cancer:

Non-melanoma Skin Cancers 

They are also called keratinocyte carcinoma. This kind of cancer develops on the parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun and is the most common occurrence in 2-3 million people per year, but it hardly ends in death. 

It either infects the basal cell of the epidermis or the squamous cells, among which Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) accounts for 80% but is less lethal than Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Non-melanoma skin cancer is rarely found to be malignant. 

Melanoma Skin Cancers 

Is skin cancer hereditary

This type of cancer affects the melanocytes (cells that impart colour to the skin) and is more lethal due to its malignant property. It is more common in the white population.

Due to ozone layer depletion and increased global warming, the human skin will be exposed to UV radiation more and more. Hence, it is estimated that skin cancer will become more common in the following decades. 

It has been estimated that 7,650 will perish due to skin cancer infection. Given this fact, people with a family history of skin cancer should be cautious because of the reasons we will discover in the next section of this article.

Is Skin Cancer Hereditary? – Can Skin Cancer Be Passed Onto Offspring? 

Exposure to UV rays is a primary cause of skin cancer. However, exposure to these rays may be similar between family members. For instance, one family member getting infected by skin cancer may mean an increased risk of skin cancer in the family. 

The data from the Skin Cancer Foundation states that about 10% of all people diagnosed with melanoma have a family member who had melanoma at some point in their life.

Both melanoma skin cancers and non-melanoma skin cancers can be hereditary. In some cases, a parent can transmit skin cancer to their child. About 5-10% of melanoma cases are proven to be hereditary.

Changes in the DNA sequence of tumour suppressor cells like BAP1, BRCA2, CDKN2A, CDK4, MITF, etc., can increase the risk of melanoma. Family members can inherit these mutations from one generation to the next. And when these defective genes are inherited, they cause uncontrolled growth of the epidermis at an early age.

Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM) is one such type of hereditary melanoma. The presence of unusual moles all over the skin combined with a family history of melanomas makes a person 17.3 times more likely to contract melanoma type skin cancer. 

These unusual moles may be asymmetrical and brown, red, yellow or black (in colour). These moles keep changing their shape, size and colour and hence, have irregular borders. 

FAMMM occurs when the CDKN2A gene of chromosome 9 is mutated, also known as the p16 mutation

Scientists are currently working on p16 mutations to know more about the heredity of melanomas.

Skin Cancer Prevention Tips

Skin cancer prevention

To prevent skin cancer, one must first identify the causes, as prevention is nothing more than eliminating causes. 

Since fair-skinned people have less melanin to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation, they are more likely to develop skin cancer. If, however, you have suffered a blistering sunburn in the past, you are at high risk of developing skin cancer. People living at high altitudes are further exposed to UV radiation due to less dense ozone. 

If you notice skin lesions from time to time, there’s a chance they may be precancerous. Exposure to UV light in any form and low immunity makes one more vulnerable to skin cancer. We have already discussed the risks associated with the presence of unusual moles and a family history of skin cancer under the heredity section of the section on skin cancer.

Now that we know the causes of skin cancer let’s discuss its prevention.

  • Cover up: Clothing can protect from the sun’s harmful rays. Wear loose and breathable clothes.
  • Get skin check-ups: Get your pores and skin screened every 12 months via your doctor or dermatologist. 
  • Limit your exposure to direct sunlight: Stay inside, particularly between 10 am to 3 pm when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. 
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen: Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. Reapply every 2 hours if you’re exercising or sweating.

Closing The Loop

Skin cancer results from the combinative effect of genetic and environmental factors. Hence, if you have a family history of skin cancers, constant precaution from UV rays and other mutagens may ensure protection against skin cancer.