It’s estimated that more than 9,000 Americans will die from melanoma this year and 76,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed. Melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer which can spread (metastasize) quickly to other parts of the body, is also the second most common form of cancer in young Americans (those aged 15-29).
Overexposure of skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation significantly increases an individual’s risk of melanoma, particularly at a young age; just one severe sunburn in childhood can double the lifetime risk of melanoma. Sun protective measures such as clothing and sunscreen are seen as key to reducing melanoma risk.
Unfortunately, however, new research suggests that the ‘sunsmart’ message may not be getting through to young Americans.
A team led from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York followed 360 Massachusetts students, surveying them in 2004 (during fifth grade) and 2007 (early teens) to gauge their attitudes towards, and behavior in, the sun. Fifty-three percent were found to have been sunburnt in the previous summer during both surveys, while positive attitudes towards tanning increased significantly between the two surveys. Startlingly, only 25% of the students admitted using sunscreen regularly in the follow-up survey.
The authors have used their findings to push for further research into promotion of the message at places which will have the most impact on children and adolescents (such as at beaches and sporting events), as well as for an increase in the overall sun safety message.
“We have to think about how we teach sun avoidance,” Dr Stephen Dusza, lead author of the study, told CNN. “A lot of the message that’s out there is focused primarily on sunscreen, but such things as the amount of time spent in the sun and shade-seeking behaviors should also be part of the message.”
Further reading on Clinuvel.com:
Dusza SJ et al, 2012, ‘Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence’, Pediatrics, 129(2):309-317. Available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/01/18/peds.2011-0104.full.pdf+html [accessed 24/1/2012].
Strouse JJ et al, 2005, ‘Pediatric Melanoma: Risk Factor and Survival Analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Database’, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23(21):4735-4741. Available online: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/23/21/4735.full [accessed 24/1/2012].
Skin Cancer Foundation, ‘Skin Cancer Facts’, Available online: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts#melanoma [accessed 24/1/2012].
Adolescents more likely to ignore sun protection as they age, 23/12/210, CNN. Available online: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/23/attitudes-toward-sun-may-change-in-adolescence/ [accessed 24/1/2012].
‘sunscreen’ posted to Flickr.com by Muffet (liz west) on 29 July 2006, <http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/207427344/>