Too Many Melanoma Survivors Are Still Seeking Sun

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Rates of deadly melanoma skin cancer are on the rise, so a new study showing that some survivors still seek out the sun has doctors concerned.

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, followed 724 long-term melanoma survivors ages 29-59 and a control group of 660 subjects matched for age and gender. They were asked about their sun-seeking habits over the course of a year.

Credit: Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Although long-term melanoma survivors reported healthier ultraviolet rays exposure and protection behaviors compared with controls, a sizeable population still reported elevated sun exposure, sunburns, and suboptimal UVR protection behaviors,” per the study’s abstract.

“At a time when rates of many cancer types are declining, the rising incidence of melanoma is worrisome,” said lead author Rachel Isaksson Vogel, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Minnesota, in an American Association for Cancer Research news release. “People who have survived melanoma are at high risk of another diagnosis, so reducing exposure to the sun is really crucial.”

Related: Melanoma Rates Climb Nationwide

More than 76,000 people received a melanoma diagnosis in 2016, according to the National Cancer Institute. Melanoma is largely preventable by reducing exposure to the sun or taking protective measures such as wearing sunscreen or hats.

This woman has a melanoma scar on her upper cheek. Credit: Julie Jordan Scott/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“Because an early-stage melanoma diagnosis and treatment was likely a fairly minor experience for most survivors, they might not understand how serious an illness this is,” Vogel said. “Survivors of melanoma have a nearly nine-fold risk of developing melanoma again, and they can reduce this risk if they make sun protection a priority.”

Patients diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma often are easily treated and have a five-year survival rate of 98 percent, according to the study.

Specifically, the study recorded these sun-seeking habits:

  • More than a third of survivors spent more than hour outside on summer weekdays, compared with 44.4 percent of controls.
  • About one in five survivors reported getting a sunburn in the previous year, compared to 36.5 percent of controls.
  • Almost two percent of survivors even reported having used a tanning bed or booth during the past year; seven percent of controls reported doing so.
  • While 62 percent of survivors said they often or always wore sunscreen, only 38.4 percent of controls did.

Why are melanoma survivors taking such risks? Vogel said many expressed to her in conversation that they simply wanted to “just live their lives,” which included enjoying the outdoors with children and grandchildren, exercising and socializing.

But with that nine-fold chance of a second diagnosis, Vogel urges those who have survived melanoma once to always take caution to avoid a sunburn. Use sunscreen and/or wear a hat, seek out shade when outside, and steer clear of tanning beds and booths.

Related: ‘Automated Dermatologist’ May Detect Skin Cancer With Same Accuracy as Real Doctors

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.” 
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