More US adults are ducking for cover with long pants, sunscreen, or a spot in the shade to avoid sun exposure that can cause skin cancer. But federal health officials say too many still get sunburns or worse—expose themselves to ultraviolet radiation 4 times more powerful than the noonday sun by using indoor tanning beds, tanning booths, or sunlamps.
In today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), federal researchers present National Health Interview Survey data showing that in 2010 half of all US adults and 65.6% of whites aged 18 to 29 years said they’d been sunburned at least once in the past 12 months. Those percentages are nearly the same as in 2000, even though seeking shade, using sunscreen, and wearing ankle-length clothing have become more common in the past decade.
The CDC tracks sunburns and how adults protect themselves from the sun to measure the effectiveness of skin cancer prevention campaigns. The risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, increases as the number of sunburns a person has goes up throughout his or her lifetime.
Primary care clinicians can help reverse some of these harmful trends. A recent review from the US Preventive Services Task Force shows primary care counseling sometimes can persuade patients, especially adolescents and young adults, to protect themselves against sun exposure or limit indoor tanning.
Today’s report also showed that in 2010, women were more likely than men to use sunscreen (37.1% vs 15.6%) and stay in the shade (34.9% vs 25.6%). But men were more likely than women to wear long pants to protect their legs against the sun (32.9% vs 25.7%). The CDC’s goal is for 80% of all US adults to use some type of sun protection by 2020.
A second MMWR report showed that 5.6% of US adults used indoor tanning devices in 2010. But the prevalence shot up to about 30% among white women aged 18 to 25 years. Prevalence was highest among white women aged 18 to 21 years who live in the Midwest, at 44%. Nearly 60% of women and 40% of men who tanned indoors said they did so at least 10 times during the previous year. The report noted that higher increases in the incidence of melanoma among young white women than young white men could be partly attributable to indoor tanning.
“Exposure to UV radiation, either from sunlight or indoor tanning devices, is the most important, avoidable known risk factor for skin cancer,” the researchers wrote.