Skin cancer is a "major public health problem" according to the United States Surgeon General. On July 29, 2014, the Surgeon General’s office issued a Call to Action in an effort to prevent skin cancer. The report includes information on reasons people often don’t take protective measures against the UV rays of the sun and provide guidelines for increasing awareness and protection.
Almost five million people in the United States are treated for skin cancer each year and the majority of these cases are caused, at least in part, by exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Taking steps to protect yourself can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Even so, many people still either skip sun protection because they aren’t aware of the risks or don’t believe they are at risk. Others intentionally spend time in the sun, or in tanning beds, to look tan because they believe this makes them more attractive.
Preventing or Reducing Your Risk of Skin Cancer
The Surgeon General’s report acknowledges that most people do not take the proper steps to protect themselves from the sun. One in three adults admit to having been sunburned in the last 12 months and adolescent girls and young women still want to have a tan. The use of indoor tanning beds is high among these groups. Recommended sun protection includes staying out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, wearing protective clothing, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
Some of the reasons people do not follow these guidelines include:
- Lack of awareness of the risks and prevention methods
- Believing they are at a lower risk, for example, people with dark skin often believe they are not at risk of developing skin cancer
- Believing having a suntan is healthy and attractive
- Not understanding the effective way to use sunscreen
While sun protection is ultimately the responsibility of each person, the report discusses how schools, companies and the government can all contribute to increasing awareness, providing education, working to improve sunscreen and provide shady areas.
Steps to Take
The Surgeon General’s report lists five specific goals - for people, businesses, health care systems, insurers, medical professionals and individuals - which can increase our sun protection and therefore decrease the incidents of skin cancer. The goals are:
This goal includes increasing shady areas in outdoor recreational settings and increasing the availability of sunscreen and other sun protection in schools and by companies employing outdoor workers.
Provide Individuals with the Information They Need to Make Informed, Healthy Choices About UV Exposure
This goal includes implementing educational programs on sun protection in schools and in places of employment.
Promote Policies that Advance the National Goal of Preventing Skin Cancer Strategies
This goal also includes implementing safety programs outlining sun protection but also includes a call to include sun protection when designing schools and in land development.
Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning
This goal looks to monitor beliefs and attitudes regarding indoor tanning as well as enforcing existing laws (such as those that ban adolescents from using indoor tanning beds) and consider even more restrictions.
Strengthen Research, Surveillance, Monitoring and Evaluation Related to Skin Cancer Prevention
The report calls for additional and ongoing research into the relationship between the sun’s UV rays and skin cancer as well as research to better understand individual behavior in regards to UV exposure. Research should also evaluate how well interventions and educational programs are working to help reduce skin cancer.
Sun protection is each person’s responsibility, however, the rates of skin cancer have increased dramatically over the last few decades. With this increase, the Surgeon General has declared it a major public health problem. We need to work together, individuals, businesses, schools, communities, state and federal government to make sure that we are all aware not only of the dangers but of the best way to protect ourselves. We need to make sure our children have shady locations and access to sunscreen during recess. Companies with outdoor workers need to incorporate sun safety education into their employment practices. Together, we can make a difference.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.