Severe childhood and teenage sunburns are more than twice as likely to lead to skin cancer as severe sunburns later in life. Get five or more blistering sunburns before age 20 and your risk could soar by 80 percent, a new study found.
Intense, blistering sunburns have long been linked to malignant melanoma, the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer.
Previous studies had found that children who had been seriously sunburned were at greater risk for melanoma than children who were not. But a new Brown University study is among the first to show those health dangers are much greater when intense sunburns occur in adolescent Caucasian girls than when they occur later in life.
While anyone can develop skin cancer, those with light skin, blue eyes and who tend to freckle are at the greatest risk. Researchers found that sun exposures in both early life and adulthood were predictive of non-melanoma cancer risks, whereas melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sun exposure in early life.
The findings further suggest advising parents to pay more attention to protecting their kids from early-life sun exposure as one way to lessen the likelihood they will develop skin cancer in adulthood.
Symptoms of sunburn — red, tender and blistering skin, chills, nausea fever and rash — are usually temporary, but the skin damage left behind is often permanent and can have serious long-term effects, including disfiguring and dangerous types of skin cancer.
The first sunburn signs may not appear for a few hours after exposure, with the worst pain showing up from 6-48 hours after sun exposure. By the time the skin starts to become painful and red, the damage is done, experts say. Often the full effect of a sunburn may not be known for 24 hours or longer.
“Older individuals should also be cautious with their sun exposure, because cumulative sun exposure increases skin cancer risk as well,” 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, and the study’s lead author.