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

Posted: October 25, 2012

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The researchers surveyed those with basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, as well as those with no history of skin cancer, to determine the effects of intermittent versus continuous sunlight exposure, as well as the timing of the exposure and age. They noted that although the relationship between both cancers and sunlight exposure is complex, researchers began to identify cumulative outdoor sunlight exposure as a risk factor for nonmelanoma skin cancer beginning in the 1950s.

Being exposed to ultraviolet radiation intermittently, perhaps while on summer vacation in high ultraviolet radiation regions, and continuous exposure through working at a job outside in the sunlight were patterns the researchers wanted to identify and correlate to basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

Study subjects were surveyed on their recollections of their history of sun exposure. Survey results reveal that a history of blistering sunburn was associated with both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Having a job in the sunlight was also associated with basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Measures of younger age at sunlight exposure "tended to be associated with squamous cell carcinoma, but not basal cell carcinoma, risk," researchers concluded.

"Sunlight exposure, regardless of the exposure pattern, is associated with both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas," Iannacone said. "Understanding how sunlight exposure response may differ by nonmelanoma skin cancer type is important for educating the public on safe sunlight behaviors. Applying sunscreen while on vacation may decrease basal cell carcinoma risk with intermittent sunlight exposure, but may not impact the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, which may be more strongly related to continuous sunlight exposure."

Michelle R Iannacone, Wei Wang, Heather G Stockwell, Kathleen O'Rourke, Anna R Giuliano, Vernon K Sondak, Jane L Messina, Richard G Roetzheim, Basil S Cherpelis, Neil A Fenske, Dana E Rollison. Patterns and timing of sunlight exposure and risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin -- a case--control study. BMC Cancer, 2012; 12 (1): 417 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2407-12-417 ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2012)