A prospective study of incident squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in the nurses' health study

F Grodstein, F E Speizer, D J Hunter
Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1995 July 19, 87 (14): 1061-6

BACKGROUND: Few epidemiologic studies are available that quantify the magnitude of the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin associated with sun exposure and related factors such as skin type. In addition, several studies have found an association between cigarette smoking and SCC.

PURPOSE: We prospectively examined the risk of developing SCC in relation to phenotype and the effects of sun exposure, as well as to cigarette smoking and other factors, during 8 years of follow-up in a cohort of 107,900 predominantly white women aged 30-55 years at base line in 1976.

METHODS: Questionnaires regarding medical history and health-related variables were sent to Nurses' Health Study participants every 2 years, beginning in 1976. Information on constitutional factors (natural hair color, childhood and adolescent tendency to sunburn and tan, and lifetime number of severe sunburns), lifestyle factors (regular time spent outdoors in the summer and sunscreen use), the state lived in at birth and at ages 15 and 30 years, and cigarette smoking habits were ascertained by questionnaire. A total of 197 women with first-incident, histologically confirmed, invasive SCCs that were diagnosed from 1982 to 1990 were included in this analysis. Multivariate analysis using proportional hazards models was used to calculate the relative risks (RRs) and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs), with adjustment for confounders.

RESULTS: The risk of SCC was increased in women living in California (RR = 1.8; 95% CI = 1.3-2.6) and Florida (RR = 2.1; 95% CI = 1.1-3.9) at base line, compared with those living in the northeastern states. This risk was higher for women living in those states at birth and at 15 years of age (RR = 2.5; 95% CI = 1.4-4.4 for California and RR = 3.0; 95% CI = 0.7-1.2 for Florida). Red (RR = 2.0; 95% CI = 1.1-3.7) and light brown (RR = 1.7; 95% CI = 1.2-2.4) hair colors were associated with an increased risk of SCC, compared with dark brown hair. After adjusting for the number of sunburns, women who tended to burn after 2 or more hours of sun exposure as children had a slightly higher risk of SCC than those who never burned (RR = 1.5; 95% CI = 0.9-2.5 for burn and RR = 1.1; 95% CI = 0.6-2.0 for painful burn), although the actual number of severe burns appeared to be a more important factor (RR = 2.4; 95% CI = 1.5-4.0 for six or more burns). Finally, current cigarette smokers showed a 50% increase in the risk of SCC compared with never smokers (RR = 1.5; 95% CI = 1.1-2.1).

CONCLUSION: Exposure to the sun leading to sunburn, particularly at early ages, should be avoided to decrease the risk of incident SCC.

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