Soldiers placed at risk of skin cancer, study reveals


New York, NY (September 2, 2014) – Soldiers deployed to sunny climates are not being adequately protected from the most common cancer type, according to a study being presented this week at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh, Scotland. The World Congress was founded by The Skin Cancer Foundation and organized this year by the British Association of Dermatologists.

Skin cancer refers to a group of cancers predominantly caused by unprotected exposure to the sun, of which melanoma is the most dangerous. Melanoma claims 9,700 lives in the US each year.

Previous research has shown that 34 percent of US military veterans who developed melanoma had also been deployed to tropical climates. In comparison, only six percent of non-military melanoma patients had spent time in tropical climates.

This latest study, conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, found that only 22 percent of military personnel were made very aware of the risks of sun exposure. Furthermore, while 77 percent reported being exposed to bright sunlight for more than four hours a day, only 27 percent had regular access to sunscreen. Just under a third of respondents (32 percent) reported having no access to sunscreen at all.

Consequently, a staggering 62 percent of military personnel reported getting sunburned while deployed abroad, including cases of skin blistering. 29 percent have noted a change in the color, shape or size of their moles (often a sign of skin cancer) since being deployed to tropical zones, however only four percent had received a skin examination from a physician since deployment.

“This study shows that the vast majority of soldiers who are facing a high risk of skin cancer are unaware of what to do to protect themselves,” said Allan Harrington, MD, spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation and former director of Skin Cancer Surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “Since sun exposure causes the vast majority of skin cancer cases, it’s imperative for our men and women in uniform to be armed with the tools they need to practice proper sun protection.”

 “The past decade of United States’ combat missions, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have occurred at a more equatorial latitude than the mean centre of the United States population, increasing the potential for ultraviolet irradiance and the development of skin cancer,” said Jennifer Powers, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University and Head Researcher of this study. “This study demonstrates room for improvement for skin cancer prevention and early detection in the military population, including possible screening of higher risk personnel.”

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Contact:

Emily Prager (212-725-5176; eprager@skincancer.org)

About The Skin Cancer Foundation

The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. Since its inception in 1979, the Foundation has recommended following a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.

About the British Association of Dermatologists

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. The BAD provides free patient information on skin diseases and runs a number of high profile campaigns, including Sun Awareness, which runs from May to September annually and includes national Sun Awareness Week in May. Website: www.bad.org.uk/sunawareness