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Do Patterns and Timing of Sunlight Exposure Contribute to Skin Cancer?

Posted: October 25, 2012

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center, the University of South Florida and the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France have studied the patterns and timing of sunlight exposure and how each is related to two nonmelanoma skin cancers -- basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

This study, published in the open-access journal BioMed Central, is the first case-control study to simultaneously evaluate identical patterns and timing of sunlight exposure as they are related to basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas in the same U.S. population with high annual ultraviolet radiation exposure. Patterns of sunlight exposure are continuous or intermittent, and timing refers to exposure during childhood, adulthood or both. It included 703 Florida residents -- 218 with basal cell carcinoma, 169 with squamous cell carcinoma and 316 without skin cancer. The research goal was to identify potential differences or similarities in sunlight exposure responses for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

"There are more than a million new cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas diagnosed in the United States each year," said senior study author Dana E. Rollison, Ph.D., associate member of the Cancer Epidemiology Program, and vice president and chief health information officer at Moffitt. "While mortality associated with nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, is low, patients may experience substantial morbidity and treatment costs are high."

It is estimated that 25% of lifetime sunlight exposure occurs before age 18. Youth is a time of greater toxic sunlight exposure and also a time when the chances of receiving blistering sunburns are higher.

"Blistering sunburn is believed to result from high doses of intense ultraviolet radiation exposure in short increments of time and is considered to be a measure of intermittent exposure," said study co-author Michelle Iannacone, Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at the International Agency for Research on Cancer.