Sunburn and Melanoma

June 22nd, 2014 @   -  No Comments

I’m the kind of doctor that just doesn’t heed anecdotal evidence. I need solid scientific proof. For those of you who are like me, you’ll be glad to learn that a new study finally proves what your mothers probably already knew: sunburns are not good for you.

A prospective study followed 108,916 women in the United States as part of the Nurses’ Health Study II and was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The study showed caucasian women with a history of strong sun burns (these women had at least 5 strong sunburns that were accompanied by blistering) between 15-20 years old had a 68% increased risk for developing non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) of the skin and an 80% increased risk for developing melanoma.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and it kills an estimated 8,790 people in the US annually. If melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it’s not, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that at present, about 120,000 new cases of melanoma in the US are diagnosed in a year. In 2010, about 68,130 of these were invasive melanomas, with about 38,870 in males and 29,260 in women.

What does this study mean? If you are a caucasian woman, then bad sunburns (at least 5 sunburns accompanied with blistering) may increase your risk for developing melanoma later in life. You may also have a 68% chance of getting non melanoma cancers. If you are a caucasian woman who had a lot of sun exposure past your twentieth birthday your chances of developing melanoma are about the same as a caucasian woman who had low UV exposure. However your chances of developing non melanoma skin cancers are about equal regardless of how much time you spent in the sun soaking up UV rays after the age of 20.
Bottom line, avoid excessive time in the sun. If you will be spending time in the sun definitely wear sunscreen and clothes that protect against sun overexposure. You may not be the coolest looking molecule out there, but rest assured that you are the smartest. The price of a that perfect sun kissed look may be too high to pay.

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