Objective: Family history of skin cancer is an important determinant of skin cancer risk for offspring. No previous study of the effect of personal or family history of skin cancer on the sun protection behaviors of the offspring has been published.
Methods: A retrospective study was conducted of the sun protection behaviors of the adolescent participants in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), who were offspring of mothers from the Nurses Health Study II. Adolescents' surveys were matched with their mothers' reports of a personal or family history of skin cancer and compared with adolescents whose mothers did not report a personal or family history of skin cancer. The outcome measures were (1) occurrence of frequent sunburns during the past summer, (2) use of a tanning bed during the past year, and (3) routine use of sunscreen. Frequent sunburns were defined as the report of > or = 3 sunburns during the past summer. We compared those who reported having used a tanning bed in the past year at least once with those who reported no tanning bed use in the past year. Routine use of sunscreen was defined as a respondent who replied that he or she "always" or "often" used sunscreen with sun protection factor of 15 or more when he or she was outside for > 15 minutes on a sunny day during the past summer. General estimating equations were used to calculate odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals adjusted for gender, age, color of untanned skin, and number of friends who were tanned. We also conducted an additional analysis restricted to children whose mothers had received a diagnosis of skin cancer in which we assessed sun protection behaviors according to the child's age and mother's age at the time of the mother's diagnosis and the number of years that had passed since the diagnosis of the mother's skin cancer.
Results: In 1999, 9943 children reported their sun protection behaviors; 8697 of their mothers had not received a diagnosis of skin cancer or reported a family history of melanoma, 463 participants' mothers had received a diagnosis of skin cancer, and 783 participants' mothers reported a family history of melanoma. Between 1989 and 1999, 371 mothers of GUTS participants received a diagnosis of skin cancer: melanoma (n = 44), squamous cell (n = 39), and basal cell cancer (n = 311); 23 mothers received a diagnosis of > 1 type of skin cancer. Because GUTS includes siblings from the same family, the 371 mothers with skin cancer had 463 offspring in GUTS. Offspring of mothers with skin cancer were slightly more likely to report frequent sunburns in the past year compared with those with neither maternal diagnosis nor family history (39% vs 36%). Tanning bed use was not significantly different among those with either a maternal diagnosis of skin cancer or family history of melanoma as compared with nonaffected adolescents (8% vs 9% vs 10%). Sunscreen use among offspring of mothers with skin cancer was higher than among those whose mothers had a family history of melanoma or mothers with no personal history of skin cancer (42% vs 33% vs 34%). Tan-promoting attitudes were also similar across all groups. Only 25% thought that a natural skin color was most attractive, and on average, 25% in each group agreed that it was worth burning to get a tan. Children of mothers who had received a diagnosis > 2 years in the past were less likely to use sunscreen, more likely to sunburn, and more likely to use tanning beds than children of mothers with a more recent diagnosis, although the results did not reach statistical significance.
Conclusion: Frequent sunburns, suboptimal sunscreen use, and high rates of tanning bed use are commonplace even among the children of health professionals who are at risk for developing skin cancer themselves as a result of personal or family history. With new information on family risk, pediatricians can use the potential of a teachable moment to ensure optimal sun protection for children who are at risk.