Background: As skin cancer education programmes directed to children and adolescents continue to expand, an epidemiological basis for these programmes is necessary to target efforts and plan for further evaluation.
Aims: To summarise the epidemiological evidence on sun exposure during childhood and adolescence and melanoma risk.
Methods: A literature review was conducted using Medline (1966 to December 2004) to identify articles relating to sun exposure and melanoma. The review was restricted to studies that included sun exposure information on subjects 18 years of age or younger.
Results: Migrant studies generally indicate an increased melanoma risk in individuals who spent childhood in sunny geographical locations, and decreasing melanoma risk with older age at arrival. Individuals who resided in geographical locations close to the equator or close to the coast during childhood and/or adolescence have an increased melanoma risk compared to those who lived at higher latitudes or never lived near the coast. The intermittent exposure hypothesis remains controversial; some studies indicate that children and adolescents who received intermittent sun exposure during vacation, recreation, or occupation are at increased melanoma risk as adults, but more recent studies suggest intermittent exposure to have a protective effect. The majority of sunburn studies suggest a positive association between early age sunburn and subsequent risk of melanoma.
Conclusion: Future research efforts should focus on: (1) clarifying the relation between sun exposure and melanoma; (2) conducting prospective studies; (3) assessing sun exposure during different time periods of life using a reliable and quantitative method; (4) obtaining information on protective measures; and (5) examining the interrelations between ability to tan, propensity to burn, skin type, history of sunburns, timing and pattern of sun exposure, number of nevi, and other host factors in the child and adolescent populations.