Will One Bad Sunburn Give You Skin Cancer?

Will one really bad sunburn lead to melanoma?

It's a question most of us wonder, since many have suffered a severe burn as a child or teenager. This is especially true for the baby boomers, who were born before sunscreen was popularly available--and we knew to use it.

And if one bad burn can cause skin cancer, what can you do about it now?

"We're still waiting for a definitive one-sunburn study to show us exactly how much melanoma risk increases with one blistering burn, but to the best of our knowledge, it seems like the answer is about 50 percent," explained R. Neil Box, an investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and president of the Colorado Melanoma Foundation. "One bad burn as a child makes you half-again more likely to develop melanoma as an adult."

About 250,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma annually, and 60,000 people will die from this most dangerous form of skin cancer.

While the increased risk accompanying one bad burn is still imprecise, studies show that the overall lifetime risk of developing melanoma climbs 80 percent with five blistering burns in childhood.

"One takeaway is that if you're a parent or camp counselor, it really is important to prevent children in your care from getting burned--five times or even once. You literally have the power to save lives," Box advises.

What can you do about it now if you were burned way back then? If you could go back to that day by the pool or doubleheader in the outfield bleachers, you would lather on the SPF or put on a shirt. But you can't. What's done is done.

Even so, what you do now to protect yourself from the sun continues to matter.

"While melanoma is created by severe, blistering burns, other forms of skin cancer depend on gentler UV accumulation over time," Box explains. "Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are like pouring water into a pitcher until it eventually overflows. Even as an adult, you can make the decision to protect yourself from the sun--to stop pouring UV radiation into that pitcher."

For example, a study of 109,000 nurses showed that people in the highest category of sun exposure as adults had about 2.5 times the chance of developing basal and squamous cell carcinomas than adults who had less sun exposure.

"It's never too early or too late to start protecting yourself and your loved ones from the sun," Box says.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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