Aim: A melanoma case-control study was conducted to elucidate the complex relationship between sun exposure and risk.
Methods: Nine hundred and sixty population-ascertained cases, 513 population and 174 sibling controls recruited in England provided detailed sun exposure and phenotype data; a subset provided serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D(2)+D(3) levels.
Results: Phenotypes associated with a tendency to sunburn and reported sunburn at ≥ 20 years of age were associated with increased melanoma risk (odds ratio (OR) 1.56, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 1.23-1.99). Holiday sun exposure was not associated with an increased melanoma risk although this may be in part because reported sun exposure overall was much lower in those with a sun-sensitive phenotype, particularly among controls. Head and neck melanoma was associated with less sun exposure on holidays at low latitudes (OR 0.39, 95% CI (0.23-0.68) for >13 h/year compared to <3.1). Overall the clearest relationship between reported sun exposure and risk was for average weekend sun exposure in warmer months, which was protective (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.50-0.89 for highest versus lowest tertile of exposure). Serum vitamin D levels were strongly associated with increased weekend and holiday sun exposure.
Conclusions: Sun-sensitive phenotypes and reported sunburn were associated with an increased risk of melanoma. Although no evidence was seen of a causal relationship between holiday sun exposure and increased risk, this is consistent with the view that intense sun exposure is causal for melanoma in those prone to sunburn. A protective effect of regular weekend sun exposure was seen, particularly for limb tumours, which could be mediated by photoadaptation or higher vitamin D levels.
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