Preventing Skin Cancer

Rates of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the US, are increasing. In 2003, approximately 54,200 persons will have new diagnoses of melanoma, and 7,600 will die from the disease. The incidence of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma is estimated to be more than a million new cases per year. The most preventable risk factor for skin cancer is unprotected ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Despite the adverse effects of unprotected UV exposure, approximately 32% of US adults report having had a sunburn in the past year, and 72% of adolescents, ages 11 to 18 years, reportedly have had at least one sunburn in the past year. Epidemiologic studies suggest that sunscreen use could be considered harmful if it increased a person’s total time in the sun and total UV exposure. Partly for that reason, sunscreen use alone might not protect against melanoma despite its protective effect on squamous cell carcinoma. It is recommended that sunscreens not be used as the sole method for skin cancer prevention, and not be used as a means to extend the duration of UV exposure. Suggested interventions focus on a combination of increasing application of sunscreen, scheduling activities to avoid peak sun hours, increasing availability of shade and encouraging children to play in shady areas, and encouraging the wearing of sun protective clothing.
(Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [CDC], October 17, 2003)


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