History of Severe Sunburn and Risk of Skin Cancer Among Women and Men in 2 Prospective Cohort Studies

Am J Epidemiol. 2016 May 1;183(9):824-33. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwv282. Epub 2016 Apr 3.


Few studies have assessed the relationship between sunburn and risk of different skin cancers (melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and basal cell carcinoma (BCC)) in prospective studies simultaneously, and little is known about the association of severe sunburns at different body sites with skin cancer risk. We used data on 87,166 women in the Nurses' Health Study (1982-2010) and 32,959 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1992-2010) to investigate skin cancer risk associated with history of severe sunburns at different body sites (face/arms, trunk, and lower limbs). After adjustment for other risk factors, overall baseline history of severe sunburn was more apparently associated with risk of melanoma than with risk of SCC and BCC in men (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios were 2.41 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.32, 4.41) for melanoma, 1.48 (95% CI: 1.08, 2.03) for SCC, and 1.18 (95% CI: 1.06, 1.32) for BCC) but not in women. Sunburn on the trunk appeared to be more closely associated with melanoma risk, but not risk of SCC and BCC, when compared with sunburns at other body sites (face/arms and lower limbs). These differences were more apparent in men than in women. Pending further investigation, our findings add novel insights to the existing literature on sunburn history and skin cancer risk.

Keywords: cohort studies; melanoma; skin cancer; sun exposure; sunburn.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hair Color
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Sunburn / epidemiology*