Challenges in Assessing the Sunscreen-Melanoma Association.

Rueegg, Corina S; Stenehjem, Jo S; Egger, Matthias; Ghiasvand, Reza; Cho, Eunyoung; Lund, Eiliv; Weiderpass, Elisabete; Green, Adele C; Veierød, Marit B (2019). Challenges in Assessing the Sunscreen-Melanoma Association. International journal of cancer, 144(11), pp. 2651-2668. Wiley-Blackwell 10.1002/ijc.31997

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Whether sunscreen use affects melanoma risk has been widely studied with contradictory results. To answer this question we performed a systematic review of all published studies, accounting for sources of heterogeneity and bias. We searched for original articles investigating the sunscreen-melanoma association in humans to 28.02.2018. We then used random-effects meta-analysis to combine estimates of the association, stratified by study design. Stratified meta-analysis and meta-regression were used to identify sources of heterogeneity. We included 21'069 melanoma cases from 28 studies published 1979-2018: 23 case-control (11 hospital-based, 12 population-based), 1 ecological, 3 cohort and 1 randomized controlled trial (RCT). There was marked heterogeneity across study designs and among case-control studies but adjustment for confounding by sun exposure, sunburns and phenotype systematically moved estimates towards decreased melanoma risk amongst sunscreen users. Ever- vs. never-use of sunscreen was inversely associated with melanoma in hospital-based case-control studies (adjusted odds ratio (OR)=0.57, 95%confidence interval (CI) 0.37-0.87, p <0.001), the ecological study (rate ratio=0.48, 95%CI 0.35-0.66), and the RCT (hazard ratio (HR)=0.49, 95%CI 0.24-1.01). It was not associated in population-based case-control studies (OR=1.17, 95%CI 0.90-1.51, p <0.001) and was positively associated in the cohort studies (HR=1.27, 95%CI 1.07-1.51, p =0.236). The association differed by latitude (p =0.042), region (p =0.008), adjustment for naevi/freckling (p =0.035), and proportion of never-sunscreen-users (p =0·012). Evidence from observational studies on sunscreen use and melanoma risk was weak and heterogeneous, consistent with the challenges of controlling for innate confounding by indication. The only RCT showed a protective effect of sunscreen. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine

UniBE Contributor:

Egger, Matthias


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services








Tanya Karrer

Date Deposited:

30 Nov 2018 11:28

Last Modified:

24 Oct 2019 07:21

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Sunscreen melanoma meta-analysis skin cancer sun protection




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