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Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure and a history of sunburn are important risk factors for skin cancer. Sunburn is more common among men, younger age groups, and people in higher income households. Sun protection measures also vary by sex, age, and socioeconomic characteristics. Associations between ambient UVR and sunburn and sun safety measures have not been quantified.

Data and methods

A total of 53,130 respondents aged 18 or older answered a Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) module on sun safety, which was administered in six provinces from 2005 to 2014. The module contained questions about sunburn, time in the sun, and sun protection. These respondents were linked to an ambient erythemal UVR dataset representing the June-to-August mean. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression were used to examine associations between population characteristics, sunburn, sun safety, time in the sun, and ambient UVR.


Sunburn was reported by 33% of respondents and was more common among men, younger age groups, people who were not members of visible minorities, residents of higher income households, and individuals who were employed. On a typical summer day, a larger percentage of women than men sought shade and wore sunscreen, whereas a larger percentage of men wore a hat or long pants. As ambient summer UVR increased, women were more likely to apply sunscreen to their face, seek shade, or wear a hat (OR~1.02 to 1.09 per increase of 187 J/m2 of erythemally-weighted UVR, or 5.4% of the mean); these associations were not observed among men.


Findings related to sunburn and sun protection were similar to those of previous studies. The association between ambient UVR and women’s precautionary measures suggests that information about UVR may influence their decision to protect their skin.


Canadian Community Health Survey, melanoma, skin cancer, sun safety, sunlight


Skin cancers have the highest incidence of all cancers in Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society estimated 6,800 new cases of cutaneous melanoma and 78,300 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in 2015. From 1986 to 2010, the incidence of melanoma increased by 2% per year among men and 1.5% per year among women. [Full Text]


Lauren Pinault (lauren.pinault@canada.ca) is with the Health Analysis Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. Vitali Fioletov is with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, Ontario.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • Sunburn and exposure to ambient ultraviolet radiation (UVR) are leading risk factors for skin cancer.
  • Sunburns are more common among younger age groups, males, and higher income individuals.
  • Women tend to protect themselves from the sun by seeking shade and wearing sunscreen, while men more frequently wear protective clothing.

What does this study add?

  • According to data from the Sun Safety Module of the Canadian Community Health Survey, sunburn risk and sun protection behaviours were similar to those of previous studies.
  • Women living in areas with greater ambient summer UVR were more likely to use most sun protection behaviours.
  • Similar associations were not observed for men.
  • Ambient summer UVR was only weakly associated with reporting a sunburn during the previous year.

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