To Protect Kids From Melanoma, Skip the Shore Vacation?
This bitter-cold weather has me dreaming of Ocean City, Md., where my family has vacationed every summer since we've been a family. Some of my favorite photos are of our tiny children plunked diaper-down in the sand, relishing the salt air and sunshine, radiating health and happiness.
So a new study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention grabbed my attention. Researchers found that the number of water-side vacations (in typically-sunny locales) that a kid takes before age 7 correlates to the number of nevi, or moles, that child develops by age 7. Why does that matter? Because the more moles you have, the greater your risk of malignant melanoma.
Each waterside vacation the kids took before they were examined at age 7 was found to be associated with a 5% increase in nevi.
That relationship was independent of parent-reported sunscreen use. (It's been suggested that using sunscreen can actually increase sun-cancer risk if it lulls us into thinking we can stay out in the sun for hours; sunscreen has to be reapplied frequently to do its job.)
There also was no apparent relationship between the length of vacations and the number of nevi; the authors say that finding suggests that the bulk of sun damage may occur on the first few days of a vacation.
The study didn't look at kids older than age 7, though the researchers are continuing to track the 681 Colorado children who participated to see how this vacation/mole relationship plays out as the kids grow up.
I hate the thought of exposing my kids to health risks. In any case, the study notes that most nevi develop during childhood, so in our case the potential damage is done. But does this study make me regret having taken them to the beach every year? I have to say it doesn't. I hope neither of them will face skin cancer, ever. But I also hope they'll always look back with joy on all those happy days at the shore.
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