Surgeon General Calls Skin Cancer a Major Public Health Problem


A Call to Action emphasizes the importance of health care providers in promoting skin cancer prevention practices.

A Call to Action emphasizes the importance of health care providers in promoting skin cancer prevention practices.

Acting surgeon general Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, named skin cancer a major public health problem requiring immediate action in a Call to Action statement released July 29, 2014.

The Call to Action particularly emphasizes counseling patients on the importance of using sun protection, noting that many patients are unaware of the risks associated with sun exposure.

The program’s 5 goals include increasing sun protection opportunities in outdoor settings, providing individuals with the necessary information to make healthy choices regarding UV exposure, promoting policies that prevent skin cancer, reducing harms from indoor tanning, and strengthening research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer.

The number of Americans who have had skin cancer during the last 3 decades is estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined, despite the ability to prevent the condition, the statement notes. Rates of skin cancer, including melanoma, are increasing, with an estimated 5 million Americans receiving treatment for the disease each year—at an average annual cost of $8.1 billion.

Research cited in the Call to Action states that 400,000 skin cancer cases are believed to be related to indoor tanning, including 6,000 melanoma cases.

“Tanned skin is damaged skin, and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health,” Dr. Lushniak said in a press release. “When people are tanned or get sunburned, they increase their risk of getting skin cancer later in life.”

The Call to Action emphasizes daily prevention measures, including protective apparel, seeking shade while outdoors, and selecting a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher for exposed skin.

Both the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) and the Skin Cancer Foundation applauded the action.

“The American public needs to be aware that the dangers of ultraviolet radiation exposure are real,” Brett M. Coldiron, MD, FAAD, president of the AADA, said in a press release. “Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays—from the sun and indoor tanning devices—is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.”

“The Foundation is especially heartened by the objectives to reach young people with information about the dangers of indoor tanning and the efforts to promote skin cancer prevention education in schools,” the Skin Cancer Foundation said in a press release. “If we can increase awareness of the dangers of indoor tanning and convince people to change their sun protective behaviors, we will go a long way to save lives and decrease incidence of the world’s most common cancer.”

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