Sunburns and risk of cutaneous melanoma: does age matter? A comprehensive meta-analysis

Ann Epidemiol. 2008 Aug;18(8):614-27. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2008.04.006.


Purpose: Sunburns are an important risk factor for melanoma and those occurring in childhood are often cited as posing the greatest risk. We conducted a meta-analysis to quantify the magnitude of association for melanoma and sunburns during childhood, adolescence, adulthood and over a lifetime.

Methods: After reviewing over 1300 article titles and evaluating 270 articles in detail, we pooled odds ratios from 51 independent study populations for "ever" sunburned and risk of cutaneous melanoma. Among these, 26 studies reported results from dose-response analyses. Dose-response analyses were examined using both fixed-effects models and Bayesian random-effects models.

Results: An increased risk of melanoma was seen with increasing number of sunburns for all time-periods (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and lifetime). In an attempt to understand how risk between life-periods compares, we also report these same linear models on a scale of five sunburns per decade for each life-period. The magnitude of risk for five sunburns per decade is highest for adult and lifetime sunburns.

Conclusions: Overall, these results show an increased risk of melanoma with increasing number of sunburns during all life-periods, not just childhood. Prevention efforts should focus on reducing sunburns during all life-periods.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Sunburn / epidemiology*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects