Skin Cancer Risk Related to Driving

Merely Me Health Guide
  • In previous posts we have talked about the risk factors associated with developing skin cancer. Some risks are well known such as tanning in the sun or using tanning beds. Some lesser known risks may include smoking, the use of UV nail lamps and exposure to some types of airport body scanners. A new risk was recently added to this list. Driving with your car window down may increase your risk for skin cancer on the left side of your body.


    In 2010 a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology concluded that more skin cancers develop on the left side of the body than the right side. In addition, these left sided skin cancers were more predominant for men than for women. This was especially so for malignant melanoma in situ.

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    This research raised the question as to why these skin cancers tend to develop on the left side more often than the right side. One logical conclusion is that some of these left-sided skin cancers may be related to driver-side automobile ultraviolet light exposure.


    A study published in the April 2011 on-line edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology  seems to validate this conclusion. Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle examined cancer cases from a government database for the years of 1986 through 2006. They targeted cases of the most deadly types of skin cancers including melanoma and merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). They found that both of these types of skin cancers were more likely to arise on the left than the right and that the area of the body most affected was the arm.


    The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that although melanoma is not as common as other skin cancers it is the cause of more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. In fact, it is estimated that one person dies of melanoma every hour. Merkel cell carcinoma can also be a very aggressive skin cancer. Although it is rare, with an incidence of approximately 1500 cases in the U.S. per year, it is fatal for about a third of the patients who have it.


    The authors of the 2011 study, Asymmetric lateral distribution of melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma in the United States, give this recommendation to the public: “It may be prudent to remind individuals prone to skin cancer to take appropriate sun precautions when driving in an automobile.”


    Some experts report that car windows can provide protection in that they block most UVB rays but that UVA rays can still penetrate the glass. If you are someone who routinely drives with the window down you might want to put on your air conditioning instead and roll the window up. If you want extra protection wearing sunscreen may also help. Any time you may be exposed to ultraviolet light you may want to think about ways to protect your skin whether you are at the beach or driving in a car.


    For more skin cancer prevention tips please refer to these Health Central articles:


    Five Easy Ways to Protect Your Skin from Skin Cancer 


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    Three Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

    How to Prevent Skin Cancer from Returning

Published On: June 30, 2011