Severe sunburns increase melanoma risk for teens

June 5, 2014

Teenagers who experience 5 or more serious sunburns before their 20th birthday could be increasing their lifetime risk of skin cancers by as much as 80%, according to new data from a 20-year study.

 

Teenagers who experience 5 or more serious sunburns before their 20th birthday could be increasing their lifetime risk of skin cancers by as much as 80%, according to new data from a 20-year study.

Researchers analyzed the association between sun exposure and skin cancer risk factors such as family history, tanning bed use, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and body mass index in a cohort of 108,916 US women aged between 25 and 42 years in the Nurses’ Health Study II (1989-2009).

The investigators found that women who had experienced 5 or more sunburns that blistered when they were aged between 15 and 20 years were at 68% increased risk for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma and at 80% increased risk for melanoma when compared with women who had the lowest cumulative ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure and who had no blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 years.

Skin cancer incidence is linked to age, sex, skin type, hair and eye color, family history, and genetics, but the highest percentage of cases is also linked to lifestyle choices such as cumulative UV radiation from sun exposure and tanning beds. Melanoma is the more aggressive form of skin cancer and is 20 times more common in white Americans than in blacks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to protect their children from early-life sun exposure in order to reduce the risk for developing melanoma and other skin cancers as they age: Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when UV rays are strongest; wear lightweight clothing that covers the body; wear hats and sunglasses to shield the face and eyes; and use broad-spectrum sunscreen (sun-protective factor, at least 15) to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Babies aged younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight altogether. 


 

 

To get weekly clinical advice for today's pediatrician, subscribe to the Contemporary Pediatrics eConsult.