Skin Cancer

Sunburn in Early Life Raises Skin Cancer Risk by 80%

Experiencing 5 or more blistering sunburns during adolescence increases overall relative risk for skin cancer later in life by up to 80%.

In order to evaluate the impact of a number of risk factors—including sun exposure—on skin cancer risk, researchers examined data from 108,916 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II between 1989 and 2009. 

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The participants were grouped into 3 categories: low, medium, and high baseline annual UV flux. Twenty-four percent had experienced painful blisters as a child or adolescent, 10% had ≥5 blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20, and 24% had used tanning beds.

During follow-up, researchers identified 6955 cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), 880 cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and 779 cases of melanoma.

Individuals who experienced 5 or more severe sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 had a 68% greater risk of BCC and SCC, and an 80% increased risk of melanoma. 

Participants who had been exposed to the highest amounts of cumulative UV radiation in adulthood reported no increased risk of melanoma, but a 2.35-fold increase for BCC, and 2.53-fold increase for SCC.

“We found that sun exposures in both early life and adulthood were predictive of BCC and SCC risks, whereas melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sun exposure in early life,” they wrote.

The variable prevalence between BCC, SCC, and melanoma suggest differences in the pathophysiology of the 3 types of skin cancer, according to researchers.  

The study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Michael Potts

Wu S, Han J, Laden F, Qureshi AA. Long-term ultraviolet flux, other potential risk factors, and skin cancer risk: a cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014 May 29 [epub ahead of print] doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-13-0821