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Five Sunburns before age 20 can Increase Skin Cancer Risk

Update Date: May 30, 2014 10:25 AM EDT

A new study examined the effects of sunburn on one's risk of developing the deadliest form of skin cancer called melanoma. The researchers discovered that young Caucasian women who have had at least blistering five sunburns before the age of 20 have an increased risk of developing melanoma.

"Our results suggest that sun exposures in both early life and adulthood were predictive of nonmelanoma skin cancers, whereas melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sun exposure in early life in a cohort of young women," said Abrar A. Qureshi, M.D., MPH, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at Warren Alpert Medical School of the Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

For this study, the researchers analyzed nearly 20 years of data on 108,916 Caucasian registered nurses, who were a part of the Nurses' Health Study II. The nurses were around the ages of 25 to 42 at the beginning of the study. They completed a baseline interview that measured risk factors for skin cancer, such as frequency of sunburns, the number of moles on the legs and family history. Information was updated every two years.

The researchers reported that around 24 percent of the people had painful blisters caused by the sun when they were children or adolescents. 10 percent had more than five blistering sunburns when they were between the ages of 15 and 20. Overall, 6,955 people were diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, 880 with squamous cell carcinoma and 779 with melanoma. 445 of the patients with melanoma had invasive cancer.

The researchers found that participants who suffered from at least five blistering sunburns when they were 15 to 20-years-old had a 68 percent increased risk for BCC and SCC. Melanoma risk increased even more by 80 percent. The researchers also found that people who were exposed to the highest levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation had a 2.35-fold increased risk of getting BCC and a 2.53-fold increased risk of developing SCC. They did not have an increased risk of developing melanoma.

"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," said Qureshi reported by Medical Xpress. "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, higher number of moles, and high sunburn susceptibility, should pay more attention to avoid excessive sun exposure, especially early in life."

The study was published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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