Before he became the Surgeon General of the United States, Boris D. Lushniak, M.D. was a practicing dermatologist. Last week he released a “Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” telling the Washington Post:
I am a dermatologist, so this is an area I’ve been passionate about. I’ve trained in skin diseases. I’ve seen patients with a variety of skin cancers, including people who have died from skin cancer. And it brings to the forefront the facts about melanoma: It’s the deadliest form of skin cancer. Each year we have 63,000-plus cases diagnosed, nearly 9,000 people die. That’s one person every single hour that’s dying from melanoma. I mentioned the increase over the past 30 years. But also, it’s one of the most common types of cancer amongst U.S. teens and young adults. So when we’re looking at impact, the term in epidemiology that we use is “years of potential life lost.” We’re really talking about a tragic disease here, something that really affects the young. That’s something, from a public health perspective, we have to do something about.
Dr. Lushniak reports that $8.1 billion is spent each year to treat the nearly 5 million Americans with various sorts of skin cancer. But melanoma, which particularly affects adolescents and young adults, is the deadliest. The key to prevention is to avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light — from the sun and from the man-made lighting of tanning beds. But it’s the danger of tanning beds that has Dr. Lushniak — and pediatricians — especially concerned:
I’ve got to, as acting surgeon general, call out the facts. And the facts are that indoor tanning is a source of ultraviolet radiation, period. Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, period. This is a needless exposure to ultraviolet radiation. According to research . . . we’re looking at about 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of them melanomas, that are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year. So I have to look at this as being a major problem. We certainly know it’s something that’s become popular amongst youth. And much like the surgeon general comes out very vehemently against youth smoking, I am coming out quite vehemently against youth exposing their skin to ultraviolet radiation in tanning booths.
And this reminder about sunscreen applies to children and adults:
- Only use sunscreen labeled as “broad spectrum” (to protect against UV-A and UV-B rays).
- Use SPF 30 or higher.
- Applying at least one ounce of sunscreen should be enough to cover the entire body.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
More PediaBlog on sunscreen and skin cancer here.