Severe Sunburns Early in Life Linked to Higher Melanoma Risk

Although almost everyone loves a sunny day at the beach, if you don’t take the proper precautions, you could be setting yourself up for a lifetime of hurt. Especially if you are younger.

Getting too much sun exposure at any time in your life is exposing yourself to a greater risk of all types of skin cancer, but studies show it’s even more dangerous if you are less than 20 years of age.

A long term study showed that women who had 5 or more serious sunburns before they reached their 20th birthday had as much as an 80 percent higher risk of developing a deadly form of skin cancer called melanoma compared with women who did not get as many sunburns or less severe sunburns.


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This was a 20 year study done with over 109,000 Caucasian women who ranged in age from 25 to 42. They lived in 14 different states in the USA. There were numerous risk factors taken into account, such as chronic exposure to the sun during adulthood, the amount of sun exposure in their early years, as well as the development of the three major types of skin cancer. The study subjects gave information regularly about their health as well as their risk factors for skin cancer, including the number of sunburns they had as a child and currently, their use ( or non-use) of tanning booths, as well as the number of moles they had on their legs.

Of course, many people don’t always remember accurately their sun exposure, the researchers made estimates regarding sun exposure depending on where they lived.

After the end of the study, almost 7,000 women had been diagnosed with the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. 900 subjects reported that they had squamous cell carcinoma, while 800 of the participants stated that they had been diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.


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Women who had been exposed to the highest levels of UV light during the stay when they were adults had more than doubled their risk of developing basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma.

It should be noted that there was no link between the amount of sun exposure in adulthood and any increased risk of developing melanoma. The risk of melanoma was much more closely related to the subjects UV exposure early in life.

This study showed that, regardless of where they lived, the subjects who had 5 or more blistering sunburns between 15 and 20 years of age had as much as an 80 percent increase in the risk of developing melanoma. They also had a 68 percent increase of developing less severe cases of cancer such as squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma.

This is in line with studies done previously where it was found that women with red hair, who stated that their skin was very sensitive to the sun, were more likely to develop any and all forms of skin cancer. Those with a family history of melanoma or those with numerous moles on their legs were also linked to higher risks of developing melanoma. Find out other ways to prevent cancer.

With almost 9,000 people every year dying from melanoma, persons with high risk traits, such as those with a high number of moles, those with red hair, or those who get sunburns early in their lives, should pay attention and get plenty of protection from the sun as well as checking their skin regularly for signs of skin cancer. Read more about places where we forgot to put sunscreen.

This study was published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in the May 29th 2014 edition.