GentleCure Blog

Is Skin Cancer Hereditary?

Yes, skin cancer can be hereditary. Although the presence of skin cancer in a parent or grandparent is not a perfect predictor of that same disease’s occurrence in a younger generation, a variety of factors put the children of those with skin cancer at a greater risk for the disease. Some of these factors are social—families tend to participate in similar levels of outdoor activity—while others are absolutely genetic. Certain genes, hereditary syndromes, and transmittable characteristics are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, and people who possess these risk factors should be especially diligent when outdoors. 

What is a Pathogenic Variant? 

First, let’s cover the definition of a pathogenic variant. According to the National Cancer Institute, a pathogenic variant is a “change in the DNA sequence of a gene that causes a person to have or be at risk of developing a certain genetic disorder or disease, such as cancer. Pathogenic variants can be inherited from a parent or occur during a person’s lifetime.” 

Is Skin Cancer Genetic?

Can skin cancer be inherited? In the vast majority of circumstances, excess sun or UV exposure is the primary cause of the disease’s appearance—but that doesn’t mean that genetics are absent from the equation. What type of skin cancer is hereditary? Here’s the bottom line: melanoma and common skin cancers (such as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers) are likely to run in families.

Can Common Skin Cancer be Inherited?

  • Basal cell skin cancers are more likely in patients with pathogenic variants (or alterations) of the PTCH1 and PTCH2 genes. PTCH1 is a type of tumor suppressor gene that aids in the formation of tissues and organs, cell growth, and cell division. PTCH2 is a protein-coding gene that may also function as a tumor suppressor. Pathogenic variants of these genes can cause abnormal cells, such as cancer cells, to grow. Individuals with these variants are more likely to develop basal cell nevus syndrome (AKA Gorlin-Goltz syndrome), a complex disease characterized by the increased likelihood of skin cancer, as well as various other ailments and conditions.
  • The following genetic syndromes are all associated with an increased risk of squamous cell skin cancers: Epidermolysis bullosa (cracking and blistering of the skin); fanconi anemia (increased incidence of solid and blood-related growths); oculocutaneous albinism (absence of skin pigmentation). 
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum—dramatically increased sensitivity to sunlight—is associated with higher occurrences of basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma skin cancers, especially in the first decade of life. The trait is genetic and recessive.

Is Melanoma Skin Cancer Hereditary? 

  • About 5% to 10% of all melanomas arise in families with multiple cases. Melanoma can be inherited. This deadly type of skin cancer is also associated with certain genetic risk factors. Particularly, pathogenic variants of the gene CDKN2A have been associated with up to 35% or even 40% of melanoma skin cancers within families. Pathogenic variants of other genes, including CDK4, MITF, and BAP1, are all also associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. All of the genes mentioned above — CDKN2A, CDK4, MITF, and BAP1 — are genes that are responsible for regulating cell growth, cell division, and the progression of the cell cycle. Pathogenic variants of these cells can lead to the development of abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.

It bears repeating that genetics are certainly not always to blame for skin cancer occurrence. According to the American Cancer Society, acquired gene mutation through repeated exposure to UV rays is a major cause of melanoma skin cancer. 

Skin Cancer Risk: Other Hereditary Factors

Certain physical characteristics, including lighter skin, blue or green eyes, and lighter-colored hair, are all—quite obviously—transmissible from parent to child. However, it’s important to point out that these factors already put individuals at a higher-than-average risk of skin cancer. Those with these traits should take extra care to protect themselves from excess sun exposure.

Skin Cancer Risk: Confounding, Non-Genetic Factors

As we noted from the outset, the increased likelihood of skin cancer in a given family is not necessarily the result of genetics; it may also be a byproduct of shared behaviors! Members of the same family might be exposed to similar levels of UV light, for example, if they spend similar amounts of time outside, live in an area with higher elevation (and higher levels of UV exposure), or are not in the habit of applying sunscreen. Similar reasons explain why skin cancer might occur multiple times in a family or close circle of friends, even though it is not at all contagious.

Controlling your own behavior, and encouraging good behavior among others, could help to decrease the risk of skin cancer across your whole family.

For Treatment, Consider GentleCure™

GentleCure is a surgery-free treatment for common skin cancer that is just as effective as Mohs surgery. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, GentleCure can treat the disease with no surgical scarring and no limits to daily activities. Find out how it works today, and ask your doctor if it’s the right choice for you.

How would you rate this page?

For more information on skin cancer treatment options, speak with a Skin Cancer Information Specialist today.

Help protect and expand insurance coverage for Image-Guided SRT by participating in change.