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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.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 6, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer , Family Health  
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Before we Blame the Beach:

The study looks at children in Colorado. The Mean Elevation of the state of
Colorado is 6,800 feet above sea level. This is the highest mean altitude of any of the 50 states.UV levels increase with altitude because there's less atmosphere to attenuate the radiation. In general, UV levels rise 2% for every 1,000 foot rise in altitude or 1 index unit for every 4 thousand feet in summer.
Do these kids have more background radiation as baseline?

Posted by: caryfnp | February 6, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Wow. I am a College Student. I was reading this article and was amazed. I never new that the more moles one acquires the greater the chances are of suffering from malignant melanoma. I was shocked because, I am well aware that, in some cultrues, a small mole is looked upon as a beauty mark.

Posted by: dclermon | February 6, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Sun blockers only need to be reapplied if they're sweated, washed, or abraded off, they don't chemically decay on exposure to the air or interaction with skin, it's a matter of the stuff coming off quite easily from normal movements.

For kids, SPF 50-70 are good, you might have to look around some on the East Coast to find products rated that high though.

Altitude does make a difference. I work at 14,000 feet, and there is a noticeable difference that high in the brightness of the Sun.

Posted by: timscanlon | February 6, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

We cannot blame the beach.

Fred Smilek is the acting president of the Society to Save Endangered Species. It was founded two years ago by Fred Smilek along with his two best friends Charles and Jonathan.

Posted by: fredsmilek | February 12, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

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