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Skin Cancer risks increase with high number of sunburns

Many of us never thought about sunburns, especially if you grew up in the 1980s. But new research suggests that those hours spent basking in the sun may have significantly increased our risk for melanoma. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (CEBP), which studied 108,916 white women, they have found that those women who had “a minimum of 5 severe sunburn incidents between the ages of 15 and 20 had an increased risk of all skin cancers.”

Skin cancer is the most common cancer


The good news is that although skin cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cancer cases in the United States, most types of skin cancers are not deadly. The bad news is melanoma, which accounts for less than 2% of these cases, is very aggressive and can lead to death. Experts suggest right now melanoma may “account for more than 9,700 of the nearly 13,000 skin cancer deaths each year.”

More aggressive screening for melanoma has helped, but the American Cancer Society still believes that there will be approximately 76,100 new melanomas cases this year and 9,710 people could die from the disease.

What did the National Institutes of Health and the Brigham and Women's Hospital study?


The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, gathered and analyzed twenty years of data from women who lived in 14 states and were between the ages of 25 and 42.

The study analyzed the women’s history with cancer, their family history with melanoma, how many times they were sunburned, and whether they had “moles between the knees and ankles on both legs.” Other factors such as frequency of smoking, alcohol use, and obesity were also studied.

Lifestyle choices increase skin cancer risk


The study concluded that “the pattern of sun exposure was not uniformly associated with the risk for all the three main skin cancers we see in the United States.” In fact, experts agreed that other factors such as the person’s hair color, the number of moles and other environmental factors could increase the risk factors. They also suggested that those who are at highest risk, like those with fair skin, excessive moles and red hair, need to pay particular attention to sun exposure.

But scientists were also quick to point out that lifestyle choices are very important. In fact, even though the risk of skin cancer can vary based on age, sex, skin type, hair and eye color, family history and genetic conditions, they want to warn the public that the greatest factor for skin cancer remains a person’s lifestyle choices.

What can you do to eliminate your chance of getting skin cancer? While we know some sun exposure is critical to generating vitamin D, it is important to pay attention to protecting yourself and your children from developing melanoma. The most important step is to use sunscreen to counter the effects of sun damage, prevent sunburn, and reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging. You can also simply limit your time in the sun.
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