Progress on Prevention and New Areas of Focus

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an infographic that showed one in three white women in the 16 to 25-year-old age group in the U.S. reported that they used indoor tanning beds. Now, in 2017, the rates of indoor tanning usage have dropped significantly. In a recent lecture at Harvard TH Chan Massachusetts General Hospital, Alan C. Geller, MPH, RN said the number of women using indoor tanning beds has been cut at least in half.

This reduction of tanning bed usage is a huge victory for skin cancer prevention efforts. The major cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is naturally present in sunlight and artificially available in tanning beds. And while the fact that fewer people are using tanning beds is progress, the incidence of melanoma is still expected to increase in many parts of the world, and mortality rates have been increasing in older adults. The focus for prevention now needs to shift to educating the public about outdoor sun protection.1,2

Being sun smart

One of the most effective public health campaigns for skin cancer prevention is the SunSmart program in Australia. The campaign began in 1988 and has demonstrated a reduction in the incidence of melanoma. SunSmart works with early childhood centers, schools, workplaces, and community clubs to promote healthy UV exposure. They’ve also used media campaigns to reinforce their message around sun protection. SunSmart has even created a smartphone app that includes reminders for sunscreen re-application, a sunscreen calculator that tells you how much sunscreen to apply, a vitamin D tracker, and a weather forecast for any location in Australia.2,3

Research data indicate that most melanomas occur in people who are at average risk for skin cancer, such as those with few or some moles, a few sunburns, scant history of indoor tanning, and no family history of skin cancer. So while understanding the risk factors is important, everyone needs to be aware of and practice healthy sun habits.

Good sun habits

While natural sunlight is the major source of vitamin D – our bodies naturally make vitamin D with exposure to sunlight – it only takes a few minutes in the sun on most days. It’s natural for vitamin D levels to drop in the winter months, when there is less sunlight in a day and people cover up with more clothing. In summer, people tend to get more than enough sunlight for vitamin D production, and spending more time in the sun can increase the risk of skin cancer.
The best way to be smart about exposure to sunlight is to practice these good sun habits:

  • Seek shade, especially during the times of day when the sun is at its peak, generally 10 am to 4 pm
  • Employ sun protective clothing, such as long-sleeves, pants, and fabric that has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)
  • Use hats, particularly those with a wide brim that provides shade for the face, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses, which protect the eyes from harmful UV rays.
  • Apply sunscreen thoroughly and regularly, reapplying every few hours or after swimming.4
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