Use Sunscreen for a 40 Percent Lower Chance of Melanoma - Hope 103.2

Use Sunscreen for a 40 Percent Lower Chance of Melanoma

New research finds sunscreen use in childhood cuts melanoma risk by 40%. Associate Professor Anne Cust explains her findings to Stephen O'Doherty on Open House.

By Anne RinaudoWednesday 25 Jul 2018Open House InterviewsHealth and WellbeingReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Associate Professor Anne Cust in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.

A world-first study led by University of Sydney has found that Australians aged 18-40 years who were regular users of sunscreen in childhood reduced their risk of developing melanoma by 40 percent, compared to those who rarely used sunscreen. Associate Professor Anne Cust explained the importance of the finding on Open House.

Most common cancer of younger men

Melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian men aged 25-49 years and second most common cancer in women aged 25-49 years, after breast cancer. Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma or other types of skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old.

Melanoma risk in under 40’s

Published today in JAMA Dermatology, this is the first study to examine the association between sunscreen use with melanoma risk in young people under 40 years. The study analysed data collected from nearly 1700 people who participated in the Australian Melanoma Family Study.

Up to 40% less risk

“Our study shows that sunscreen use in childhood and adulthood was protective against melanoma in young people 18-40 years old, with their risk reduced by 35 to 40 percent for regular sunscreen users compared to people who rarely used it,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Anne Cust, who heads the Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Research group at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health and Melanoma Institute Australia.

Sunscreen is protective from sun harm

“The association of sun exposure and sunburn with melanoma risk, particularly in childhood, is well established and this study showed that regularly using sunscreen was protective against the harmful effects of sun exposure.

Lighter skinned people and women

“Regular users of sunscreen were more likely to be female, younger, of British or northern European ancestry, and have higher education levels, lighter skin pigmentation, and a strong history of blistering sunburn.

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Men and people with darker skin

“People were less likely to use sunscreen if they were male, older, less educated, or had skin that was darker or more resistant to sunburn.

“Despite sunscreen being widely available and recommended for sun protection, optimising the use of sunscreens remains a challenge and controversies continue to surround its use.

UV index of 3 or more

“This study confirms that sunscreen is an effective form of sun protection and reduces the risk of developing melanoma as a young adult. Sunscreen should be applied regularly during childhood and throughout adulthood whenever the UV Index is 3 or above, to reduce risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

Benefit may be more for some

“Some population subgroups such as people with sun-sensitive skin or with many moles might get a stronger benefit from using sunscreen,” she said.

The Australian Melanoma Family Study was conducted in collaboration with Cancer Council Queensland and University of Melbourne and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Cancer Council NSW, Cancer Council Victoria, Cancer Council Queensland, and the US National Institutes of Health.

What About Vitamin D?

Some of our Open House listeners raised the question about vitamin D and sunscreen. They wondered if the use of sunscreen might make people susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because only limited amounts of Vitamin D are found in food. To have sufficient Vitamin D people also need exposure to sunlight.

Associate Professor Cust referred us to this helpful SunSmart information sheet on the topic of Vitamin D. It includes the specific question ‘Will sunscreen stop you from making enough vitamin D?”

Sunscreen won’t stop Vitamin D

This is the answer from the information sheet: – “Sunscreen use should not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. When sunscreen is tested in lab conditions it has been shown to decrease vitamin D production, however regular use in real life has been shown to have little effect on vitamin D levels. This is probably because those people who use more sunscreen, spend more time in the sun, so naturally will have higher vitamin D levels.”

Extra sun doesn’t make extra Vitamin D

The body can only absorb a limited amount of vitamin D at a time. Once a person has received enough UV exposure, spending extra time in the sun won’t increase vitamin D levels – but will increase the risk of skin cancer. How much UV exposure a person needs depends on the time of year, UV levels, skin type and current vitamin D levels. The information sheet discusses this in more detail.    

To listen to the podcast of this conversation click the red play button at the top of the page, or you can subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes and they will appear in your feed.