Some melanoma patients may not be as cautious as they should be, according to a new study. Doctors have found that more than a quarter of those with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – do not use sunscreen when outside for more than an hour, and many are still use tanning beds.
"We were shocked," says Dr. Anees Chagpar, associate professor in the Department of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, "although we found that melanoma survivors did better than the general public at protecting their skin from the sun, we also found that more than a quarter of melanoma survivors never wear sunscreen. That blew my mind."
The research was presented the annual meeting of the American Academy of Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. on Monday.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays. The five-year survival rate for early-stage melanoma is high, but anyone with the diagnosis has to be careful about protecting their skin.
Investigators looked at data on melanoma protection taken from a large National Health Interview Survey conducted three years ago.
Of the more than 27,000 people who responded to the survey, 171 had a history of melanoma. And although those survivors were more prone to stay in the shade and wear protective clothing than those who did not have melanoma, 27% of them said they never wore sunscreen when outdoors on a sunny day. Most disturbing to researchers, 2% of these survivors said they still used tanning booths.
"That doesn't surprise me," Dr. Howard Brooks, dermatologist and director of Georgetown Skin in Washington, said. "I have patients with the diagnosis of skin cancer, including melanoma, that do not wear SPF on a daily basis."
"In my patient population," Brooks continued, "I find it is the younger patients that are not as compliant with SPF after a diagnosis. I think young people still feel that they are invincible. They still want to look good for the beach or summer, so they will risk getting a tan."
Study authors believe dermatologists need to stress to their patients the dangers of exposure to the sun and tanning bed rays. Doctors should make strong pleas to melanoma patients to use sun protection and avoid artificial tanning because melanoma can recur and lead to bigger problems. But investigators say the bigger question is: Are patients listening?
"Once you get melanoma you have a much higher risk of getting it again, in some other area. It's important to be vigilant when it comes to staying out of the sun," notes Chagpar. "We can't help but wonder if patients are getting the message and just don't seem to care, or perhaps tanning could be more addictive to some. And that's a whole new issue that we need to look at."
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