Research has shown that children who have experienced a sunburn at an early age are at almost double the risk for developing melanoma — a deadly skin cancer — in adulthood. Now, a new study led by Memorial Sloan Kettering epidemiologist Stephen Dusza finds that most children do not regularly use sunscreen, a practice that protects them from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
Dr. Dusza and his team of investigators surveyed 360 fifth graders in Massachusetts and learned that at least half of them experienced sunburns before age 11. When researchers followed up with the group three years later, they found that rates of sunburn remained high and sun behaviors changed.
The older children reported spending more time in the sun and applying less sunscreen. In fact, half of the children who routinely used sunscreen at the beginning of the study no longer did so three years later, and only 25 percent of the children in the group continued to use sunscreen regularly.
Published in the February 2012 issue of Pediatrics, this is the first prospective study of sunburn and sun behaviors in this age group. The research data is part of the Study of Nevi in Children (SONIC) — an ongoing, multi-institutional study led by investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering that aims to explore genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors in mole development in children.
“The next step is to learn how to best to promote sun protection in pediatric offices and community settings such as beaches, after-school sites, and sporting events,” Dr. Dusza explains. “This is especially true for adolescents who are developing tan-promoting behaviors.”