According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one blistering childhood sunburn more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. A new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, followed over 100,000 Caucasian registered nurses who had reported having at least 5 blistering childhood sunburns. Data was collected from the participants every 2 years for 20 years, and showed a dramatic link between childhood sunburn and an increased risk of skin cancer. The more common skin cancers—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—were 68% higher than normal in the study group. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, was discovered to be 80% higher!
Another recent study relating to childhood sunburn was conducted at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and has established unequivocally in a natural animal model that the incidence of malignant melanoma in adulthood can be dramatically reduced by the consistent use of sunscreen in infancy and childhood. Critics of sunscreen often site the fact that in spite of more people wearing sunscreen, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise. The landmark study uses a natural mammalian model (infant opossums) in order to better compare to human responses to UV radiation. The results of the study clearly debunk the notion that kids don’t need to wear sunscreen. Senior author of the study, John L. VandeBerg, PhD, said that based on the study results, “the reason it is particularly important that sunscreens be used consistently in childhood, and especially in infancy, is because skin cells during growth are dividing much more rapidly than in adulthood, and it is during cell division that the cells are most susceptible to UV-induced damage.”
Val Coupes, a consultant pediatrician in the UK, knows first hand the risk of a childhood sunburn. At the time she was interviewed in 2010, she had been given a prognosis of between six and twelve months to live. She had melanoma cancer, the result of a bad blistering sunburn she had gotten on holiday with her parents when she was seven years old. As of this blog writing, she has beaten the odds and has not succumbed to the cancer. In the time she has left, she is raising a warning voice to parents that a fun day at the water park shouldn’t turn into a battle against cancer later in life. Click here to ready Val’s story.
A childhood sunburn is an all-too-common event, given that today parents should be better educated about the dangers of UV radiation and it’s link to skin cancer. As parents, it’s vitally important to educate and protect our kids from sunburn. The following are a few tips to help you appropriately protect your kids when in the sun:
Skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes when left unprotected—especially for kids who are fair-skinned. Since it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure, don’t wait until you “see” your child being sunburned to take action.
Contrary to popular belief, developing a tan is not a smart way to protect your child’s skin from damage. Even though the melanin in darker (tanned) skin does help protect against UV damage, the PROCESS of achieving that tan required unprotected exposure to UV—causing skin damage.
Cool and Cloudy—
Even on cooler, cloudy days, kids still need to be protected. Remember, it’s UV radiation, not temperature, that does the damage. And although clouds filter UV somewhat, they don’t block it.
Remember that one of the best “parenting” things you can do for your child is to help him or her avoid a childhood sunburn. For additional information and some great teaching tools for both parents and educators, visit one of our partners, SunSafe Colorado.org.