Facts about Sunburn and Skin Cancer

sunburn_legWhat's the harm in sunburn? A person's risk for melanoma--the most serious form of skin cancer--doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.

Unfortunately, getting sunburned is much more common that it ought to be. In a recent survey conducted in partnership with iVillage, The Skin Cancer Foundation learned that 42 percent of people polled get a sunburn at least once a year.

One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. A person's risk for melanoma also doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.

Let's look at how sun exposure relates to skin cancer. The two most common nonmelanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), are directly correlated with sun accumulation over many years. Indeed, the most common locations for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tumors are sun-exposed areas: the face, ears, hands, etc. (However, it is not unheard of for a basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma to appear on a non-sun-exposed area of the body.)

Melanoma is different. The sun exposure pattern believed to result in melanoma is that of brief, intense exposure - a blistering sunburn - rather than years of tanning. (Some studies now indicate that basal cell carcinoma also may be triggered by this exposure pattern.)

Other risk factors are also associated with melanoma, such as a family history, skin type and having a large number of sizable moles on the body. Like nonmelanoma skin cancer, melanoma can arise on any area of the body, regardless of whether or not a sunburn occurred in that location.

The lesson? Simple: do not burn.

Don't forget our tips:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.