Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, is a major public health problem that requires immediate action, according to a new Call to Action released by the U.S. Surgeon General. Even though most skin cancers can be prevented, rates of skin cancer, including melanoma, are increasing in the United States. Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for skin cancer every year, at an average annual cost of $8.1 billion. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. teens and young adults.
A key message in the report is that although people with lighter skin are at higher risk, anyone can get skin cancer—and it can be disfiguring, even deadly. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans who have had skin cancer is estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined.
“While many other cancers, such as lung cancer, are decreasing, rates of melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- are increasing,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H. “As a skin oncologist who worked in this field for many years, I have cared for both the young and old with skin cancers. Almost all of these cancers were caused by unnecessary ultraviolet radiation exposure, usually from excessive time in the sun or from the use of indoor tanning devices.”
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Each year, more than 63,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. and nearly 9,000 people die from this disease. Rates of melanoma increased more than 200 percent from 1973 to 2011. Melanoma is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. teens and young adults.
According to research cited in the Call to Action, more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of which are melanomas, are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the U.S. each year. Currently, as many as 44 states plus the District of Columbia have some type of law or regulation related to indoor tanning, but nearly one out of every three white women aged 16 to 25 years engages in indoor tanning each year.
“Tanned skin is damaged skin, and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. “When people tan or get sunburned, they increase their risk of getting skin cancer later in life.”
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action helps to educate consumers by providing everyday steps they can take to lead healthy and active lives while being outdoors. These steps include wearing protective gear (such as a hat, sunglasses, and other protective clothing) and seeking shade along with the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to protect any exposed skin, especially during midday hours.
“We want all Americans to lead healthy, active lives,” Dr. Lushniak said, “We all need to take an active role to prevent skin cancer by protecting our skin while being outdoors and avoiding intentional sun exposure and indoor tanning.”
The report calls on all sectors of American society, including the business, health care, education, government, and nonprofit sectors, as well as families and individuals, to do more. Examples include communities providing shade in outdoor settings, health care providers counseling patients on the importance of using sun protection, and educational institutions discouraging indoor tanning.
See the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Announcement
See the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer
See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2012 Report: Mistakes in Diagnosing Cancer: Liability Concerns for Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Delayed Diagnosis