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Study: People know sun’s danger, but don’t practice safe exposure

It’s been almost two decades since the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) first asked the public what they know about skin cancer, sunscreens and sun exposure. Despite countless health messages about the dangers of the sun and the alarmingly high rates of skin cancer in the United States, the results of a new AAD survey show that Americans, particularly young individuals, recognize that overexposure to the sun is unhealthy but are still not protecting themselves when outdoors. However, as people age, attitudes towards sun safety begin to change ? not only for themselves but for the children in their care. From the American Academy of Dermatology :New American Academy Of Dermatology Survey Finds People Aware Of The Dangers Of The Sun, But Sun Protection Not Necessarily Practiced

Age affects sun safety behaviors

NEW YORK (April 29, 2003) ? It’s been almost two decades since the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) first asked the public what they know about skin cancer, sunscreens and sun exposure. Despite countless health messages about the dangers of the sun and the alarmingly high rates of skin cancer in the United States, the results of a new AAD survey show that Americans, particularly young individuals, recognize that overexposure to the sun is unhealthy but are still not protecting themselves when outdoors. However, as people age, attitudes towards sun safety begin to change ? not only for themselves but for the children in their care.

Speaking today at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month Press Conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, MD, Clinical Professor, New York University Medical Center, New York, New York, discussed the results of a new AAD survey on attitudes and practices towards sun safety and how insufficient sun protection habits are continuing to influence the rising skin cancer rates.

“Today, people are more aware of the serious health consequences associated with overexposure to the sun,” said Dr. Rigel. “However, as this most recent survey and previous studies show, people are continuing to spend long periods of time in the sun without appropriate sun protection which greatly increases their risk of skin cancer.”

The AAD conducted its most recent survey in 2003 on sun exposure and primary prevention efforts. These results were compared to those of previous AAD surveys taken in 1996 and 1986 to assess how trends may be affecting the rising skin cancer rates.

Adults age 35 years and older, appear to be heeding the warnings about overexposure to the sun. Since 1996, these adults have reported a 16 percent decrease in the number of sunburns they received this past summer and their use of sunscreen has remained stable at 31 percent.

“As people age they seem to become more aware of the dangers of the sun,” said Dr. Rigel. “This may be because they are seeing the first signs of sun-induced aging and therefore are beginning to practice sun protection habits to reduce the appearance of aging skin and decrease their skin cancer risk.”

Also notable is that as people grow older, they begin taking greater sun safety precautions with the children in their care. In fact, 79 percent of parents and grandparents, aged 35 and older, said they apply sunscreen on children when they play outdoors. This figure is supported by the decreasing number of sunburns received by the young children in their care, 46 percent in 2003 versus 49 percent in 1996.

“Considering that 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure can occur before the age of 18, it is a very good sign to see that parents and grandparents are heeding the warnings of overexposure to the sun,” remarked Dr. Rigel. “However, as young people begin to assert their independence, sunscreen usage drops and time spent in the sun increases.”

Those under 25 who use sunscreen when outdoors dropped from 49 percent in 1996 to 34 percent in 2003. Coupled with reports that people of all ages are spending more time outdoors on the weekends ? some reporting more than five hours a day outside during the summer months ? it is no surprise that the number of sunburns for people under the age of 25 is increasing. In fact, more than half of respondents in this age group reported receiving a sunburn last summer.

“Sunburns are bad for you and the ones you get early in life have been shown to increase the risk for skin cancer later in life. But recent studies have shown that even the sunburns you get later in life are harmful,” said Dr. Rigel. “The bottom line is that the more sunburns you get, the greater your risk for skin cancer. Yet, a simple behavioral change ? sun protection ? can dramatically lower the risk for developing skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.”

A broad-spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher, re-applied every two hours or after swimming or strenuous activity, is one component of a comprehensive sun protection program. People should also avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest, wear sun-protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts and sunglasses, and seek shade whenever possible.

One in five Americans will develop a skin cancer during their lifetime and it is one of the few cancers where the cause is known: overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It is estimated that 91,900 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2003 and approximately 7,600 deaths will be attributed to melanoma this year. At this rate, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

“If current behavioral trends continue, skin cancer may become one of the leading cancer-related causes of death among Americans,” stated Dr. Rigel. “People should still enjoy their time outdoors, but should change their behavior to incorporate sun safety precautions into their routine. This can ensure that they and the children in their care decrease their risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma.”

The study results were determined by a random sample telephone survey of 1,091 households within the continental U.S. conducted in March 2003 by Leo J. Shapiro and Associates (Chicago, IL) in collaboration with the AAD.

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of over 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM or www.aad.org.




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