A new study suggests that sunburns may be as serious as smoking.
The research, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that up to half of those who had sunburn-related skin conditions had developed skin cancers.
The researchers analysed data from nearly 12,000 people in the UK, Ireland, the United States and Australia.
The study found that among the 1,069 cases of sunburn and 2,034 of skin cancer, an increased risk was associated with sun exposure at least six months apart.
“People have been getting sunburned in the US, in Australia, in Ireland, in the United Kingdom, in New Zealand, in Sweden and all around the world, but the extent to which we’re actually getting the cancer has been underestimated,” said Dr Joanna Smeets, a researcher at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study.
“This is a new area of research, and we hope that our work will help inform further research.”
The study also found that the risk of developing skin cancer was higher for women than men.
The authors concluded that the association between sunburn, cancer and skin cancer is due to sun exposure being a stronger risk factor than smoking.
Dr Smees said the study is important because sun exposure can be one of the biggest factors in the development of skin cancers and, as such, is potentially of importance for people who have skin conditions.
“It’s important to know what the actual risk is and that’s why we looked at it as a separate study,” she said.
“We know that the sun is damaging the skin, it can damage the lining of the eye, it may cause an allergic reaction, it causes inflammation in the skin.
So we want to understand how much of the effect is related to the amount of exposure we’re getting.”
The research also found sunburn rates to be highest among women, with those who have been exposed to sun for more than 12 months having the highest rates of skin-cancer cases.
Dr Jennifer Gros, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, said the findings show that people with skin conditions that can lead to skin cancer may be less likely to seek treatment.
“Our study shows that the longer people are exposed to the sun, the higher the rate of skin tumours is,” she told ABC Radio.
“The fact that it is associated with more severe sunburn symptoms, is one of these things that is associated in people with darker skin tones.”
The new study was funded by the Australian Government and was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.
It was published online on February 6.
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Topics: sun, diseases-and-disorders, health, diseases—other, australia