‘My childhood sunburn gave me skin cancer in my forties’ – the first sign


“My childhood sunburn gave me skin cancer in my 40s,” said Emma. After spending the whole day outdoors as a child by the pool side, her forehead had blistered and her arms were so sunburnt that they had to have dressings to soothe the pain. 

Forty years later, the mother-of-two from Birmingham found herself with skin cancer in the exact spot where her forehead burnt.

Diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma – one of the most common skin cancers, Emma’s now left with a five-centimetre scar.

Dr Paul Banwell, who treated her, said: “Sun exposure during childhood years is a significant contributor to developing skin cancer. 

“There are many other factors too, of course – sun burning episodes, skin type, family history, outdoor jobs and interests (sailing, gardening, surfing, tennis, cricket, cycling, golf, etc.) but childhood years contribute significantly to sun exposure and this is very relevant to later life.”

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The doctor explained that while he was able to remove the cancer, Emma’s case is the testament to “the dangers of sunburn at a young age”.

Emma said: “I was so shocked when I went through my history with Paul. 

“In my adult life, I have been very conscious of applying an SPF and have been very careful since my early 20s to avoid early ageing. 

“I have only ever been on one sunbed too. I am not one for laying out in the sun and would rather use fake tan.”


Dr Banwell explained that basal cell carcinomas can present in various ways.

He said: “Often they look like small pearly nodules with a crust. 

“Common symptoms of skin cancer include a sore or area of skin that doesn’t heal within four weeks, looks unusual or hurts, is itchy, bleeds, crusts or scabs for more than four weeks.

“If you are worried about an area of your skin, or something has changed, please seek professional advice”.

With the summer behind the corner, the doctor urged all parents about the “vital importance” of applying SPF on their children, as well as taking precautions, including sun hats and staying out of the midday sun.

He said: “The majority of sun exposure occurs during childhood years. We also know that sunburn episodes when younger are a strong predictor of future skin cancer formation in later years.”

He explained that most cases of skin cancer are triggered by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps.

“It’s essential that a greater emphasis is placed on the importance of regular SPF application, even when it’s not sunny,” he added.

Emma, who has two daughters aged eight and 11, said her girls were very shocked by what happened to her and now don’t “moan” about applying their own sunscreen.

“Their aversion to sunscreen has gone and when they complain about sunscreen, I have said it is really important and now they see why,” she said.

Emma also urged people, especially those looking after children, to take precautions in the sunshine.

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