Melanoma Awareness, Myth Busters, Sun Safety

How Many Sunburns Does It Take to Get Skin Cancer?

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Team Molemap Creator
Posted 03/05/19

Do frequent sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer?

A recent report by the American Association for Cancer Research showed an increased risk among women who experienced at least five blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 to 21.

Among the participants, those who reported a larger number of sunburns earlier in life showed an 80% higher chance of getting melanoma in later years and a 68% chance of getting basal cell carcinoma.

The link between early-life sunburns and instances of melanoma is especially important for those living in Australia, considering that two out of every three Australians will develop some form of skin cancer before their seventieth birthday, with about 2,000 Australians dying every year to the disease.

Knowing what increases your risk can help protect from skin cancer in the first place.

What Happens When Your Skin Becomes Sunburned?

We need to understand that sunburn itself does not cause skin cancer. It is the overexposure to the dangerous ultraviolet radiation that damages skin cells, weakening them and creating the opportunity for cancer to form. Sunburn is simply a symptom that highlights this skin damage.

Whenever your skin is exposed to UV light, it reacts by producing more melatonin. This helps to darken the skin, which works to protect cells from further damage. That is why those with paler skin tend to burn more easily; they are more susceptible to UV damage.

Since skin cancer is caused by the cumulative effects of UVB exposure, it makes sense that repeated sunburns can increase your chances of developing skin cancer later on.

Statistics show that just five blistering sunburns as a teenager can substantially increase your risk of developing skin cancer. A person’s total risk level depends on multiple factors, which may include:

  • Genetics - Have others in your family battled skin cancer?
  • Complexion / skin colouring - The lighter your complexion, the more apt you are to sustain sun damage.
  • The amount of daily sun exposure - Those who spend a lot of time outdoors without protection are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer
  • The number and severity of sunburns experienced - The more your skin has been damaged by the sun, the less able it is to protect itself
  • Overall health and immunity - a healthy body is better equipped to heal itself

Could you be at risk? Take our quick check to find out.

Skin Cancer Symptoms                                                                 

Practicing good prevention techniques is one of the best ways to stave off skin cancer, but what do you do if you have already experienced multiple sunburns over a lifetime and are concerned about developing skin cancer? Knowing the signs and symptoms of skin cancer is a vital component to staying healthy.

Read the Molemap Guide to Checking Your Skin here.

Here are some common signs to watch out for. Think ABCDE

  • Asymmetry. Does one side of the mole not match the other?
  • Border irregularity. Are the edges of the mole are ragged or blurred?
  • Colour. Does the mole appear to be multicoloured? Does it have dark brown, blue, black, or red colours in it?
  • Diameter. Is it larger than 6 mm or the size of a pencil eraser?
  • Evolving. Does it change colour, size, or texture over time?

Early Detection Is the Key to Healthier Skin

Early detection is vital to eliminating the risk of skin cancer and ensuring your skin is healthy.

If you notice a suspicious spot on your skin when you do your self-check, consider having it checked for your peace of mind. If you have not tried conducting a regular self-examination, this article about how to know the difference between a normal mole from a cancerous mole can help you get started.

To find out if you are at risk, take our quick quiz assessment to find out.

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