SUMMARY: Skin Cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the US and around the world. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) are the two most common types of skin cancers. It is estimated that 5.4 million cases of BCC and SCC are diagnosed each year in the US (occurring in about 3.3 million Americans, as some individuals have more than one type of skin cancer), and 8 of 10 are BCCs, whereas SCCs occur less often. Although the overall mortality rate from these cancers are low, SCCs are almost exclusively responsible for approximately 3,000 deaths per year in the US, with the greatest mortality risk among transplant recipients, who are immunocompromised. Malignant Melanoma of the skin occurs less frequently than BCC and SCC, and the American Cancer Society estimates that in the US for 2020, about 100,350 new melanomas will be diagnosed and about 6,850 people are expected to die of the disease. The rates of skin cancer have been rising rapidly over the past several years, with the economic cost estimates of $8.1 billion annually in the US.
Exposure to UltraViolet (UV) rays is a major risk factor for most skin cancers. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. UV rays-emitting indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds, sunlamps, and UV lamps, are another source of UV rays. The risk of UV rays associated skin cancers, particularly for SCC, is dose dependent, and increases with greater duration and intensity of exposure. This risk is increased with cumulative solar UV rays exposure over an individual’s lifetime. For a given level of UV rays exposure, skin cancer risk is highest among UV ray sensitive phenotypes who typically are fair skinned, and have a propensity to sunburn, blister and/or freckle, upon exposure to UV rays. National surveys on sun exposure in the US illustrate the high rates of sunburn among adults (35%) and high school students (57%), emphasizing the importance of primary and secondary prevention strategies in the younger population. The ASCO’s 2019 National Cancer Opinion Survey found that only 49% of respondents reported using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Skin cancer is less common in individuals with darker skin colors (Black and Latino individuals), due to greater levels of melanin in the skin, which inherently has photoprotective ability. Nonetheless, when skin cancers do occur in individuals with darker skin tones, they tend to be more aggressive, possibly due to delayed diagnosis, as these individuals may be less aware of their skin cancer risks.
Given that skin cancer has such a major impact on society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) earlier this year published a policy statement aimed at lessening the burden of skin cancer through reducing exposure to UV radiation for youth and adults. This policy statement included a review of the risk factors for skin cancer, disparities in incidence, diagnosis and survival among different populations, and public health strategies for Primary and Secondary skin cancer prevention.
ASCO presented recommendations across the following four themes:
Reduce Exposure to Indoor Tanning
1) A major opportunity to prevent skin cancer is by reducing UV ray exposure through avoidance of indoor tanning.
2) Avoidance of indoor tanning holds particular promise in influencing adolescents and sexual minority men because of their higher rate of exposure to tanning.
3) The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that UV ray-emitting indoor tanning devices were carcinogens and there is now high-quality scientific evidence documenting strong and consistent associations between indoor tanning devices and skin cancer risk.
4) Indoor tanning is higher among non-Hispanic white females compared with all other population subgroups, and its direct association with melanoma risk likely explains the higher melanoma incidence in this group compared with male adolescents and young adults.
5) There is evidence suggesting the presence of “tanning dependence”, similar to substance use dependence, among individuals who engage in indoor tanning.
6) Recognizing that indoor tanning devices are a threat to public health, several cancer care and public health organizations support strong restrictions designed to prevent the use of UV ray-emitting tanning devices. ASCO supports strengthened laws and regulations restricting such products
Increase Public Efforts to Promote Sun Protection
1) Local, state, and federal laws should support policies that allow students to carry and use sunscreen products without physician authorization.
2) Enhance the protection of young people by encouraging the increased use of broad-spectrum sunscreen and protective clothing, through educational programs.
3) Improvement in sunscreen products and public education to prevent intentional sun exposure, for promoting Vitamin D synthesis.
4) Private and public institutions should be encouraged in their efforts to create more shaded areas in places used for outdoor recreation.
5) Development of new educational efforts, to change the social perceptions of tanned skin.
Community Education and Outreach
1) Investing in prevention research, and continued support for the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Skin Cancer Prevention Education Program, to address the burden of this disease among persons of color, lower socioeconomic status populations, and sexual minorities.
2) ASCO and the cancer care community should work together to develop effective methods for outreach and health communication, to the diverse segments of the population at risk of skin cancer.
Role of Oncology Providers
1) Research has shown that cancer survivors do not adhere to skin-protective behaviors, anymore than the lay public who have not been diagnosed with cancer.
2) Oncologists should discuss with their patients the regular use of properly applied broad-spectrum sunscreen and the use of sun-protective clothing such as hats, long sleeves, and long pants when outdoors, as well as avoidance of UV rays either from sunlight, or from UV ray-emitting indoor tanning devices.
3) Oncology providers should be vocal supporters of skin cancer prevention policies and should educate patients of color, so that they understand that they are also at risk of skin cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology Policy Statement on Skin Cancer Prevention. Alberg AJ, LoConte NK, Foxhall L, et al. JCO Oncology Practice. 2020;16:490-499.