Do Sunscreens Increase or Decrease Melanoma Risk: An Epidemiologic Evaluation

  • Martin A. Weinstock
    Dermatoepidemiology Unit, VA Medical Center – 111D, 830 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence, RI 02908–4799
    Dermatoepidemiology Unit, VA Medical Center, and Department of Dermatology, Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.
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      Ultraviolet adiation is an important cause of melanoma, so the use of sunscreen lotions has been advocated for melanoma prevention. Several arguments have been raised in opposition to this inference. Sunscreen use may interfere with cutaneous vitamin D synthesis, which some have hypothesized may lower melanoma risk. Sunscreen users may compensate for their sunscreen use by staying out much longer in the sun, or may use sunscreen lotions inconsistantly. Published melanoma case-control studies have not consistantly demonstrated a protective effect of sunscreens; however, these studies do not provide strong evidence, ultraviolet radiation is a known cause of melanoma, and ultraviolet B may be particularly potent, so on balance the evidence supports continued advocacy of sunscreen lotion use as part of an overall sun-protection regimen. Uncertainty will remain, however, until the action spectrum of melanoma is convincingly demonstrated or the methodologic limitations of existing epidemiologic evidence are overcome. The latter may require another decade or more of experience with sunscreen use.