Multiple Sunburns During Adolescence Significantly Increases Melanoma Risk

Sunburn on NeckExperiencing five or more blistering sunburns before the age of 20 increases the risk of melanoma by up to 80 percent, reports a new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention (CEBP).

Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, the present study used twenty years of collected data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which targeted female nurses between the ages of 25 and 42 years old across fourteen states in 1989. The study collected data on a cohort of 108,916 American women.

Data collected at the beginning of the study included the number of severe sunburns experienced that blistered between the ages 15 and 20; personal history of melanoma, basal, or squamous cell skin cancer; family history of melanoma; and number of moles between the knees and ankles on both legs.

The participants also received a follow-up questionnaire every two years throughout the study that collected data on disease and health-related topics including questions related to possible skin cancer risk factors including family history disease updates, frequency of tanning bed use, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI).

Comments Dr. Abrar A. Qureshi, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at Warren Alpert Medical School of the Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital, both in Providence, Rhode Island:

“Pattern of sun exposure was not uniformly associated with the risk for all the three main skin cancers we see in the United States, suggesting that there are some differences in the pathophysiology of these skin cancers.”

Adds Dr. Qureshi:

“An individual’s risk of developing skin cancer depends on both host and environmental risk factors. Persons with high host-risk traits, such as red hair color, a higher number of moles and high sunburn susceptibility should pay more attention to avoid excessive sun exposure, especially early in life.”

Of the total participants in the study, 24 percent had experienced blistering sunburns early in life, 10 percent had experienced blistering sunburns five or more times, and 24 percent had used tanning beds. Of the participants diagnosed with skin cancer, 6,955 were diagnosed with BCC, 880 with SCC, and 779 with melanoma. Of the total participants diagnosed with melanoma, 445 had invasive cancer.

Upon analyzing the data from the study, the researchers discovered that individuals who experienced five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 years old had a 68 percent increased risk for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma.

States Dr. Qureshi:

“Our results suggest that sun exposures in both early life and adulthood were predictive of non-melanoma skin cancers, whereas melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sun exposure in early life in a cohort of young women.”

The results of the present study indicate that sun safety during childhood and before the age of 20 is essential for reducing the risk of skin cancer including melanoma.

Comments Dr. Qureshi:

“Parents may need to be advised to pay more attention to protection from early-life sun exposure for their kids in order to reduce the likelihood of developing melanoma as they grow up. Older individuals should also be cautious with their sun exposure because cumulative sun exposure increases skin cancer risk as well.”

Skin cancer is currently the most common cancer in the United States. Although melanoma accounts for only two percent of all skin cancer cases, melanoma is more aggressive than other skin cancers and accounts for more than 9,700 of the nearly 13,000 skin cancer deaths each year.


Long-term Ultraviolet Flux, Other Potential Risk Factors, and Skin Cancer Risk: A Cohort Study:
Multiple Sunburns as an Adolescent Increases Melanoma Risk by 80%:

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