The Verdict Is In: Sunscreen Helps Prevent Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

Recent landmark research has conclusively proven the value of sunscreen use in preventing melanoma and other skin cancers. That is the strong assertion made in a commentary by Drs. June K. Robinson and Michael Bigby in the July 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Several earlier studies, the authors note, had well established the benefit of sunscreen in preventing squamous cell carcinomas, but the evidence that it could prevent melanoma had ranged from partial to conflicting.

Earlier this year, however, Australian researchers Green, et al tipped the scale, publishing the first ever randomized controlled human trial (the most convincing form of research) showing that regular use of sunscreen can prevent melanoma. The investigators studied 1621 adults in subtropical Nambour, Australia, dividing them randomly into two groups, one furnished with unlimited SPF 16 sunscreen and trained to use it daily, the other allowed to continue using or not using sunscreen as they always had. The results were stunning: 50 percent fewer melanomas in the sunscreen group (11 vs. 22 in the other group) and an even greater disparity in invasive melanomas (3 vs. 11).

Since exposure to solar or artificial (indoor) ultraviolet radiation is the only known cause of melanoma that can be modified, these findings are a “game-changer” for melanoma prevention, according to Drs. Robinson and Bigby. Those at high risk of skin cancer because of skin type or family history or who live in or visit sunny climates should always “routinely and thoroughly” apply sunscreen before going outside. As the US Preventive Services Task Force found in separate randomized controlled trials this year, by learning to practice proper sun-protective behavior and to decrease indoor tanning, at-risk individuals can effectively reduce their risk for developing melanoma. The Skin Cancer Foundation considers sunscreen one vital part a comprehensive sun safety program, along with shade and sun-protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.