Despite new questions about the ability of sunscreens to prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, people should use them on a regular basis, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
“Sunscreen should continue to be an integral part of a comprehensive program including sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and avoidance of unnecessary UV exposure,” asserted The Skin Cancer Foundation's President, Perry Robins, MD.
The Foundation was responding to a study reported on at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Philadelphia. The report suggested that suntans and sunburns may actually help prevent melanoma, and that regular use of sunscreen may increase rather than decrease the risk of developing the disease.
Refuting these assertions, the Foundation emphasized that suntanning and sunburning both result from genetic damage at the cellular DNA level, and should in no way be considered helpful in skin cancer prevention. They are evidence of the body's concerted attempt to repair uv damage, and any lesions that cannot be repaired increase the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. Sunscreen is one of the strategies that helps prevent this damage.
Dr. Robins cited a 1995 survey of Australians which found that sunscreen is by far their favorite method of sun protection, used by 74 percent of the population. If sunscreen increases melanoma risk, he said, cases would be skyrocketing in the country. Instead, both incidence and mortality of the disease are beginning to level off in Australia for the first time in decades. In addition, a large 1995 study of women in San Francisco found that frequent sunscreen users had significantly lower risk of developing melanoma.
In the study discussed at the AAAS meeting, the researchers examined sunscreen use over the past 10 years. However, melanomas may often develop 20 or more years after excessive sun exposure. Many physicians believe we cannot yet fully gauge sunscreen's ability to prevent melanoma, since broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreens have been used widely only since the mid-1980's.
Nonetheless, sunscreen has been clearly proven to reduce the risk of many other serious skin conditions, including:
- squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, nonmelanoma skin cancers which occur in more than a million Americans annually. Both can be disfiguring and sometimes deadly;
- actinic keratoses, premalignant skin lesions which are found in more than 5 million Americans annuaily and can turn into skin cancers;
- wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other effects of “photoaging.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation cautions that no matter how careful you are about sun protection, some harmful ultraviolet radiation may still get through to your skin. Therefore, it is never advisable to stay out in the sun for extended periods.
For more information on prevention and early detection of skin cancer, call the Skin Cancer Foundation at 1-800-SKIN-490.