Through the years, the Surgeon General has drawn attention to many pressing public health issues such as smoking, obesity and HIV/AIDS. Now for the first time in the 143-year history of the office, the Acting Surgeon General, Boris Lushniak, MD, has addressed the ever-rising epidemic of skin cancer. In July, Dr. Lushniak, a dermatologist, issued a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, summoning all sectors of society to step up their efforts in fighting the disease.
We at The Skin Cancer Foundation are elated that the Surgeon General is using his significant position of influence to raise awareness of the world’s most common cancer, which in the vast majority of cases is preventable. In this spirit, we are dedicating this current issue of Sun & Skin News to expand upon his Call to Action.
The Surgeon General’s report comes at a time of great momentum. From federal to state levels, policy changes are being made to better protect the public against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, the leading cause of skin cancer. In May, the US Food and Drug Administration reclassified tanning beds as Class II devices, raising their health risk category in recognition of their potentially harmful effects. Formerly, they were inappropriately categorized as Class I devices along with innocuous items such as tongue depressors. The regulatory agency also mandated in May that tanning machines include a black box warning that children under 18 should not use the devices. While the FDA has not banned the use of these devices by minors outright, many states have. As of August 2014, 11 states have passed laws prohibiting the use of tanning beds by children under 18. This is swift progress; as recently as October 2011, California became the first state to pass an under-18 ban.
The Call to Action doesn’t mince words. Skin cancer is a “public health crisis,” requiring a multi-pronged, community-wide response, says Lushniak. Each year, he points out, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancers, at an estimated cost of $8.1 billion, and some 9,000 people die from melanoma. The crisis shows little sign of improvement. As other cancer rates dip, the incidence of skin cancer is still on the rise. Of particular concern are two vulnerable groups: men, who are dying from melanoma at significantly higher rates than women, and young, light-skinned women, who continue to use UV tanning beds at alarming rates.
With our vastly improved understanding of skin cancer causes, prevention and treatment, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the disease. The Call to Action, we hope, will become a rallying point for all sectors of society to make skin cancer prevention a priority. The report is divided into five strategic goals, which we will touch on in turn in this issue, outlining specific actions we can all take to reverse the rising trend of this disease. “The message comes down to you,” says Lushniak. “You can act to prevent skin cancer.”