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Overall exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays in childhood, not just sunburns, may be a major factor influencing a person's risk for skin cancer later in life, suggest initial results of research looking at the interaction of genes and UV exposure in 214 people with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Dr. Nancy Thomas, a dermatologist at the University of North Carolina, used satellite data to track average UV radiation in the towns and states where the patients lived at different times of their lives, the Associated Press reported.
She and her colleagues found that the patients who'd experienced the highest UV exposure by age 20 had the highest number of melanoma-related BRAF gene mutations. The same patients also had the most moles, another important risk factor for melanoma.
More research is needed, but Thomas suggested that rapidly growing skin on young people may be especially vulnerable to damage from UV rays, the AP reported.
In related news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is putting the finishing touches to new rules for sunscreen ratings. Currently, sun protection factor (SPF) ratings tell consumers only how well a sunscreen protects against UV-B rays that cause sunburn.