Skin Cancer Explained

How many sunburns does it take to get skin cancer?

Discover what happens when you get sunburnt
MoleMap Team
April 27, 2021
5 minutes

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.

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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 risk quiz 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?

What's my skin cancer risk?

Answer six simple questions (takes less than 1 minute) to discover your risk and the right skin check for you.
Check my risk

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 promptly assess your risk, schedule a professional skin check or mole check at a skin cancer clinic without delay.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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