May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. The month is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment, including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. According to the United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2002 Incidence and Mortality Report, 44,582 new cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in this country in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are currently available. That same year, melanomas of the skin claimed the lives of 7,513 Americans. Although death rates from basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are low, these cancers can cause considerable damage and disfigurement if they are untreated. However, when detected early, approximately 95 percent of these carcinomas can be cured.
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important environmental factor involved in the development of skin cancer. When used consistently, sun-protective practices can prevent skin cancer. UV rays from artificial sources of light, such as tanning beds and sunlamps, are as dangerous as those from the sun and should also be avoided. Although both tanning and burning can increase a person’s risk for skin cancer, most Americans do not consistently protect themselves from UV rays. A survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately 43% of white children under age 12 had at least one sunburn during the past year.
Source: U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2002 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2005. Available at: www.cdc.gov/cancer/npcr/uscs.
Guidelines for School Programs to Prevent Skin Cancer
To disseminate information about the importance of minimizing UV exposure during childhood, CDC published Guidelines for School Programs to Prevent Skin Cancer in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Research and Recommendations Report. Intended to help state and local education agencies and schools play a role in reducing unsafe sun exposure, this publication includes recommendations on:
Establishing policies that reduce exposure to UV radiation.
Maintaining an environment that supports sun-safety practices.
Providing health education to students.
Involving students’ families.
Training health care professionals.
Evaluating school skin cancer prevention programs.