Although most survivors of melanoma take precautions to protect their skin from the sun and further occurrences of cancer, data presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) held in Washington, D.C., April 6-10, 2013 revealed that more than a quarter (27%) do not use sunscreen when outside for more than an hour. The same data also shows that more than 2% still use tanning beds.

Commenting on the remarkable data, Anees B. Chagpar, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, in New Haven, Conn., and director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven noted: ?We know that melanoma is a malignancy prevalent in our population, and we know that for many people with melanoma, sun exposure is a major risk factor for recurrence and sun protection may reduce their chances of getting melanoma again. 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.?

National Health Survey
Chagpar and colleagues evaluated data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, an annual, cross-sectional survey of the civilian, non-institutionalized population of the United States that asks questions on a wide range of health topics. Survey results, collected by the U.S. Census Bureau since 1957, have been instrumental in providing data to track health status, health care access, and progress toward achieving national health objectives. For this reviews, Chagpar and colleagues focused on data collected on self-reported history of melanoma, sun protection practices and indoor tanning.

Of 27,120 adults, 171 had a prior history of melanoma. Researchers found that compared with those individuals who reported no history of melanoma, survivors were more likely to stay in the shade (15.6% versus 10.5% of the general population) and wear a baseball cap/visor (31.3% versus 18.4%), wide-brimmed hat (20.5% versus 6.1%) and/or long-sleeved shirt (12% versus 5.2%) when outside on a warm, sunny day for more than an hour. They were also more likely to always wear sunscreen (32% versus 17.2%).

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Educating melanoma survivors
However, 15.4% of melanoma survivors still reported rarely or never staying in the shade, 27.3% reported never wearing sunscreen when going outside on a warm, sunny day for more than an hour (compared with 35.4% of the general population), and 2.1% reported using a tanning bed during the previous year (compared with 5.5% of the general population). ?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 explained.

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In addition, she recommended researchers use the data to educate the general population, as the results revealed that only 17.2% of Americans will always use sunscreen and 5.5% still use tanning beds.

Intentional tanning
An unrelated study among adolescents suggest that a variety of factors influence tanning. Individual factors that correlated with intentional tanning include demographic factors such as sex and age, attitudes and and behaviors such as participating in other risky or appearance-focused behaviors like extreme as dieting. Social factors include parental influence, including a parent who tans or permits tanning and peer influence.

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, causing, on average, 8,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Deaths caused by melanoma accounted for $3.5 billion in lost productivity each year

For more information:
Holman DM and Watson M. Correlates of Intentional Tanning Among Adolescents in the United States: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Adolescent Health 2013 (May) 52 (5), Supplement, S52?S59.

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