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Childhood Beach Vacations Raise Risk of Deadly Skin Cancer

During the Super Bowl pregame show, Bruce Springsteen spoke of his band member Danny Federici, who died of melanoma. Raising awareness of the diseases, one of the deadliest of cancers, is an important step toward slowing the rapid increase in cases that have occurred in recent decades, experts agree. More than 62,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year and more than 8,000 die.

The disease is among the more preventable of cancers, however. The basic message: Be careful in the sun.

Today, scientists point out that the caution needs to start early. In particular, parents might want to replay Springsteen's message for their young boys.

Summer beach vacations lead to a 5 percent increase in moles known as nevi among 7-year-old children, according to a study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Boys were most at risk.

The number of these moles is in turn the major risk factor for malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The study was conducted among children who lived in Colorado, but lead author Lori Crane, chair of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, said the findings are applicable worldwide.

"Parents of young children need to be cautious about taking their kids on vacations that are going to be sun-intensive at waterside locations, where people are outside for whole days at a time in skin-exposing swimsuits," said Crane.

Crane said parents often mistakenly believe that sunscreen is a cure-all. Although it does offer some protection, the likelihood is that children stay out in the sun longer, thus increasing their risk. In fact, when used incorrectly, sunscreen can do more harm that good.

"We recommend that, for young children, parents keep the kids involved in indoor activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to decrease risk, or if they are to be outside, that they wear shirts with sleeves," Crane said.

Crane and colleagues examined 681 white children born in 1998 who were lifetime residents of Colorado. Vacation histories were assessed by interview and skin exams were used to evaluate the development of nevi.

"Daily sun exposure at home did not seem to be related to the number of moles, while waterside vacations were," Crane said. "Vacations may impart some unique risk for melanoma."

Crane and colleagues also found that young boys had a 19 percent higher risk than young girls for nevi development. "This may be due to an increased likelihood among boys to want to stay outdoors," Crane said. Finally, higher incomes were associated with greater risk, as those with higher incomes were more likely to take waterside vacations.

Live Science Staff
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