What Is the Connection between Freckles and Cancer?

Dan Harkins

The light-brown skin spots known as freckles are a part of life for most humans, some more than others. Those with the lightest complexions are most prone to developing these spots on areas of the skin that have the most contact with the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, indicating an increase in the skin's production of melanin. Freckles and cancer only rarely go together, particularly when they are the kind of the freckles called lentigines, which develop with severe sunburn.

A close up of a freckle.
A close up of a freckle.

Lentigines are slightly larger and darker than ordinary ephelide freckles, which are about the size of a nail head and light brown, pink or red in color. They also will not diminish over the winter as ephelides do. Other usually benign growths include liver spots and seborrheic keratoses that commonly develop on the skin of the elderly. None of these are necessarily cancerous. When any of these suddenly change in appearance, however, a doctor should be consulted.

Freckles alone are usually not connected to cancer.
Freckles alone are usually not connected to cancer.

When freckles and cancer go together, it is usually in connection with other more distinct features. Freckles alone usually will not signal cancer. Cancer on the skin will create lesions or abnormally large bumps. It also could show itself as a mole suddenly changing color, as in the case of melanoma. A doctor should be consulted, however, any time a significant change occurs in the color of freckles, even those located in an area with little exposure to the sun.

The ultraviolet light of the sun is blamed for creating freckles and cancer, though the former is not necessarily a precursor to the latter. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is only one cause, since it does not explain all the types of skin cancer that occurs on areas of the skin not typically exposed to the sun. Other factors leading to skin cancer include having fair skin, excessive sunburns, exposure to arsenic, a high number of lesions or moles, a genetic predisposition, and a compromised immune system. Though those with fair skin are more apt to exhibit freckles, this does not mean the freckles actually caused the cancer, just the sensitivity of the skin.

Doctors regularly suggest protecting the skin from UV rays by using a powerful sunblock, especially when spending several hours in direct sunlight. This helps to prevent both freckles and cancer from forming on the skin. Even with this protection, during the course of life, those with the lightest skin are most prone to have melanocytes — pigment-producing cells in the epidermis — overproduce to create freckles.

Ultraviolet light from the sun can create freckles, and some cancers.
Ultraviolet light from the sun can create freckles, and some cancers.

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Discussion Comments

Large, dark freckles that show up suddenly could lead to cancer. My neighbor loves sunbathing and recently, she developed several large freckles on her arm. The doctor did a biopsy on them and thankfully, they were not malignant. But she has been told to stay away from the sun completely and she is also using a medicated cream to help fade the freckles.

@donasmrs-- I'm not a dermatologist so you should see a doctor to make sure that your freckle is normal. I think it's normal for freckles to get darker and slightly larger from sun exposure. It should fade and get smaller over time when you protect your skin from the sun.

But if the freckle keeps growing, if the texture or color changes, if it has uneven borders or starts to bleed or ooze pus, those are signs that there is something wrong. These kind of changes happen to cancerous moles and freckles. The good new is that freckles are less likely than moles to turn into cancer. But you should still take extra precautions to protect your skin from the sun.


My freckles get darker in the summer and fade over winter. Recently, I noticed that one of my freckles on my cheek has gotten slightly bigger. I was out in the sun a lot last month, so I think that's the cause.

Should I be worried about this freckle growing? How can I tell if it turns cancerous?

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