What's the real risk of a sunburn?

6:54 PM, Jun 5, 2012   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Half of all people 18 to 29 say they've had a sunburn in the past year.

So what's the real cancer risk of another sunburn if you've already had a few in your lifetime?

It's the subject of this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment.

"Most of us have had a sunburn at one time in our life," said Dr. Eva Hurst with the Siteman Cancer Center.

Dr. Hurst says no one knows exactly what the risk of one sunburn is, and that's why it's important to protect skin from infancy on.

"Ninety percent of our sun exposure is before we're 20, so those sunburns in kids are really dangerous," said Dr. Hurst.

What doctors do know is that the red, sore, itchy, peeling skin of a sunburn means your skin has suffered DNA damage, damage deep at the cellular level.

"So we know that at least several sunburns over time really put you at higher risk and particularly for people with kids they should really try to keep their kids protected from the sun," said Dr. Hurst.

And that DNA sun damage is accumulative. So getting older isn't a license to skip the sunscreen.

"Once you've hit a certain threshold of sun, 40s, 50s where you're starting to get some pre-cancers or skin cancers every time you throw a sunburn on top of that it's adding on and it gets harder and harder as we age for the body to keep up with that damage to sort of keep it in check," said Dr. Hurst.



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