U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer

Call to ActionRecently, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, Acting Surgeon General of the United States, released The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, which outlines a national plan to reduce skin cancer risk through education, public policy, and research. Skin cancer is a major public health problem with nearly 5 million people being treated annually and it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S.

The Surgeon General’s report lays out strategies for governments, businesses, health care systems, schools, communities, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to work together to help prevent skin cancer in the US. The strategies include:

  • Increasing opportunities for sun protection, such as shade, in outdoor recreational, educational, and workplace areas.
  • Developing effective ways to deliver skin cancer prevention messages to the audiences that most need them.
  • Promoting policies to prevent skin cancer, including sun protection lessons in schools, electronic reporting of skin cancers in health care systems, and sun safety training in workplaces.
  • Enforcing indoor tanning laws and looking at making them tougher, while teaching people – especially young people and their parents – about the dangers.
  • Doing more research to understand the link between ultraviolet (UV) rays and skin cancer, and how policies can best help people lower their risk for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is on the rise, according to the American Cancer Society, with more cases diagnosed annually than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer cases combined.

It’s estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year are related to indoor tanning, 6,000 of which are melanomas. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer because of how fast it spreads to other parts of the body.  It accounts for only 2% of skin cancer cases; however, it’s responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths, nearly 9,000 deaths annually.

As many as 90% of the melanoma cases are believed to be caused by exposure to UV rays. UV rays are also a major risk factor for basal and squamous cell skin cancers, the most common types. Exposure to UV rays comes from the sun and other sources like tanning beds and sunlamps. Protecting yourself from harmful UV rays reduces not only the risk of skin cancer, but also sunburn, premature wrinkles, and eye damage. To stay sun- and UV-safe:

  • Cover up: When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30: Be sure to reapply at least every 2 hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
  • Seek shade: Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps: Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.

“We know that the risk level for skin cancer decreases with more skin pigmentation,” said Dr. Lushniak. “But no one is immune. All races are still diagnosed and still affected by UV rays.”

After reading these statistics, ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to reduce my chances of skin cancer?  I hope that answer is a resounding “yes”.