Skin cancer is a big deal. More than 3.5 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer in over two million people and over 70,000 cases of melanoma are reported each year, which makes skin cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer the United States. This means that on an annual basis there are more new cases of skin cancer than the incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined. To break this down further, one in five Americans (one in three Caucasians) will develop skin cancer during the course of a lifetime. Bottom line…skin cancer is a big deal. In my skin cancer and sun safety basics post I go over a lot of the facts, so please refer back to it for a more in-depth discussion, and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Also check out skincancer.org for a wealth of great information and photos of all of the different types of skin cancers.
So if I already talked about these facts in a previous post, why am I all riled up and repeating myself you might ask? Contrary to what my kids may say (and my husband and possibly the neighbors, but who likes nosy neighbors anyway?) I have not lost my mind, but my mind is most certainly boggled. A recent study reported that greater than 27% of melanoma survivors never put on sunscreen when spending more than an hour in the sun. Researchers at Yale also found that 15.4% of skin cancer survivors rarely or never sought shade from the sun, and 2.1% used tanning beds. This is insanity. Tanning beds? Evidence from several studies has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning beds is linked with an increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and non-melanoma skin cancer. In fact, studies have demonstrated a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning. 75 percent! This evidence is the basis for championing the passage of legislation to ban the use of tanning beds for minors (currently 33 states have restricted teen’s access to tanning beds). So if these are the facts, and people who have already been diagnosed with skin cancer have been educated about these facts, and believe me, as dermatologists we tell our patients, over and over again, then why are skin cancer patients still ignoring them? This is a dilemma. This is my dilemma and I want to help change these statistics. But I need your help to do it.
We know that protecting your skin from the damaging UVA and UVB rays of the sun is imperative to minimizing your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun protection is a multi-faceted process: practicing sun avoidance during the hottest parts of the day, seeking shade (I promise you can find bliss there), wearing sunscreen (daily and reapplying often) and wearing clothing that has a UPF rating greater than 30, are all important to keeping you safe in the sun.
Based on the staggering number of skin cancers diagnosed annually and the results of the recent study noted above, it would appear that telling people this information isn’t enough. It would appear that a cultural shift, a “shade revolution” if you will, is in order. For starters, we need to embrace vintage times, go retro…what’s old is new again. It works for current fashion trends (hello neon and leg warmers!) and toys (yes, cabbage patch kids I’m talking about you!) so why can’t we embrace the way we used to behave in the sun. Back in the day our ancestors spent plenty of time outdoors, but clothing protected the majority of their body. Being pale was in vogue, whereas having a tan was undesirable. We can do this! You don’t have to give up that Caribbean vacation or frolic on the beach, just be sun savvy! Tap into your sun-conscious and take the necessary steps to protect your skin. Together we can change the perception of what’s “hot” in the sun and you will find your shaded bliss, I promise!