The teenage mistake that increases your cancer risk by 80%

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We all remember our first major sunburn – the one that turned showering into a torturous experience, resulted in peeling skin, the one that made you realise exactly how stupid it is to not use sunscreen. If you grew up in Australia that burn probably wasn’t a one off, either.

Worryingly, those careless teenage sunburns are more than just a painful memory.

According to new US research, just five serious sunburns – severe enough to cause blistering – between the ages of 15 and 20 more than doubles the risk of skin cancer among Caucasian women. The risk of two kinds of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, is increased by 68%, while the risk of melanoma grows by an enormous 80%.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, tracked the health of almost 109,000 nurses over 20 years.

Around one quarter of the women studied had experienced painful, blistering sunburns at a young age, with 10% having had more than five of these burns between the ages of 15 and 20. Almost 7000 were diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, and 880 had squamous cell carcinoma, and 780 were diagnosed with melanoma. Of those with melanoma, 445 developed invasive cancer.

The study also found that exposure to UV radiation throughout adulthood increased the risk of skin cancer.

Unfortunately, none of us have the ability to jump in a time machine and slap some sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat on our teenage selves.

But, booking regular appointments with a GP or a skin cancer specialist is entirely possible and a very wise idea, especially if you over indulged in the sun in your younger life.

Having your skin checked by a professional is the best way to ensure sun damage is monitored and, if necessary, promptly acted on.