Skin Cancer Survivors Not Practicing Safe Sun

Melanoma survivors do not always protect their skin from sun damage

(RxWiki News) Sunny days are among life’s finest pleasures. Being outdoors when the sun shines bright requires some protection, though. And you’d think people who’ve had skin cancer would know these things and practice safe sun all the time.

A recent study finds more than 25 percent of melanoma (worst type of skin cancer) survivors don’t use sunscreen when they're in the sun for more than an hour.

And more than 2 percent of people who’ve lived through melanoma still use sun tanning beds!

"Use sunscreen whenever you spend time in the sun."

Anees B. Chagpar, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, in New Haven, Conn., led the study that compared the sun habits of melanoma survivors with those of the general public.

 “Although we found that melanoma survivors did better than the general public at protecting their skin from the sun, we also found that more than a quarter of melanoma survivors never wear sunscreen. That blew my mind,” said Dr. Chagpar, who is director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, said in a press release.

In 2013, an estimated 77,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Unprotected sun exposure can increase the risk of new melanomas in these individuals.

Researchers examined data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, a study that asked 27,120 adults from around the US about a wide range of health topics. This study focused on survey information relating to sun protection practices and indoor tanning.

Among the survey respondents, 171 people had been diagnosed with melanoma at some point in their lives. Researchers compared the sun habits of the melanoma survivors and those of the other survey participants.

Compared to the general population, melanoma survivors reported that when they were out in the sun for more than an hour, they:

  • Likely stayed in the shade – 15.6 (survivors) vs. 10.5 percent (general population)
  • Wore a cap or visor - 31.3 vs. 18.4 percent  
  • Wore a wide-brimmed hat - 20.5 vs. 6.1 percent
  • Wore a long-sleeved shirt - 12 vs. 5.2 percent
  • Used sunscreen - 32 vs. 17.2 percent

That’s the good news. The bad news is that too many melanoma survivors said they didn’t protect their skin from the sun, including:

  • 15.4 percent said they rarely or never stayed in the shade
  • 27.3 percent indicated they never wore sunscreen when being out in the sun for more than an hour; that compares to 35.4 percent of the general population reporting not using sunscreen.
  • 2.1 percent reported that they had used a tanning bed within the past year, compared to 5.5 percent of general population.

“Melanoma survivors, in general, engage in more sun protection practices than the general population. However, the fact that many do not seek shade and never use sunscreen, and some reported tanning bed use, remains a concern for their skin cancer risk,” the authors concluded.

“We now know that a significant proportion of melanoma survivors still could be doing better. This study speaks to what we could do to educate melanoma survivors on how to prevent recurrence,” Chagpar said.

"I agree with Dr. Chagpar that melanoma survivors definitely do better regarding sun protection than do those people in the general population," Susan Chon, MD, assistant professor of Dermatology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told dailyRx News.

"However, we still cannot assume that melanoma survivors are doing all that they can to protect themselves. We, meaning, all the physicians and providers who take care of melanoma survivors, should take each opportunity we have to encourage continued use of photoprotective measures and avoidance of tanning beds when we see our melanoma survivors," Dr. Chon said.

Findings from this study were presented at American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2013. All research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal. No financial conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
April 6, 2013