New Science: Surprising Skin Cancer Risks You Might Be Ignoring

Viagra? A morning glass of OJ? These unexpected factors can actually raise your risk of skin cancer.

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You start your day with OJ


Some sour news for citrus lovers: People who consumed citrus, like orange juice or a grapefruit, at least once a day had a 36 percent higher skin cancer risk compared with those who consumed citrus fewer than two times a week, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which followed more than 100,000 adults for 25 years. Citrus foods contain compounds that make skin more photosensitive. But there’s no need to reduce your intake, says lead researcher Abrar Qureshi, MD, MPH, chair of the department of dermatology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University—just reduce your sun exposure, especially in the few hours after eating citrus. These are strange reasons you got sunburned without realizing it.

You take Viagra


Men who used the drug were 84 percent more likely to develop melanoma over a period of ten years in one JAMA Internal Medicine study. More research is needed to prove a connection, but men over 50 are more than twice as likely as women to develop and die from skin cancer whether they use Viagra or not—so they need to be especially vigilant about sun protection.

You worship the sun on your yearly getaway


Intense, intermittent sun exposure, the kind that frequently leads to sunburn on beach vacations, seems to increase the risk of melanoma more than regular exposure—say, the 15 minutes you’re outside running errands during the day. That daily time in the sun isn’t without consequence; cumulative sun exposure is linked to non-melanomas like basal cell carcinoma, a less lethal form of skin cancer. However, there’s something about sudden blasts of UV radiation that seems to overwhelm the skin’s defenses against melanoma. These sunscreen myths make dermatologists cringe.

You’re being treated for an autoimmune disease


When your immune system is weakened, your skin cancer risk can skyrocket. That’s a concern for the 50 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, Crohn’s disease, and other conditions that cause the body to attack itself. The immune-suppressing drugs used to treat these ailments can worsen the problem. For example, TNF inhibitors, medications taken by people with RA, raised the risk of melanoma 50 percent in one study. People who took immunosuppressant drugs called thiopurines to control IBS were more prone to non-melanoma skin cancer in two studies. It’s a real problem, says Mona Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. The solution: “Skin cancer is easily treated if caught early, so be sure to do monthly self-checks and see your doctor every six months or as recommended for a skin exam,” says Dr. Gohara. These healthy habits can boost your immunity.

You drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day

iStock/Giorgio Magini

A recent analysis of 16 studies found that imbibing in excess of one daily cocktail on a regular basis increases the risk of melanoma 20 percent, possibly because compounds in alcohol make skin more sun sensitive. Of course, being under the influence can also make you more careless about sun protection: Those who consumed more than four cocktails or a few strong beers a day had up to a 55 percent increased risk of melanoma. These are signs you could be binge drinking without realizing it.

You count more than 11 moles on your right arm


Women with that many moles were nine times more likely to have over 100 moles scattered across their whole body, a known risk factor for melanoma, say researchers at King’s College in London. Don't miss these sneaky skin cancer spots (that aren't even on your skin).

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