Surgeon General Calls for Action to Prevent Skin Cancer

The US Surgeon General’s office is drawing national attention to skin cancer, calling it a major public health problem that requires immediate action. The first-ever Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer outlines a national plan to reduce skin cancer risk through education, public policy, and research.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US and rates are increasing. According to the report, nearly 5 million people in the US are treated for skin cancer every year. Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, kills about 9,000 people in the US each year. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among American adolescents and young adults.

In a news conference announcing the report, Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh said, “This is an urgent and pressing public health challenge for our country. We need to increase action as a country to promote prevention for skin cancer.”

Calling for action

The Surgeon General’s report lays out strategies for governments, businesses, health care systems, schools, communities, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to work together to help prevent skin cancer in the US. The strategies include:

  • Increasing opportunities for sun protection, such as shade, in outdoor recreational, educational, and workplace areas.
  • Developing effective ways to deliver skin cancer prevention messages to the audiences that most need them.
  • Promoting policies to prevent skin cancer, including sun protection lessons in schools, electronic reporting of skin cancers in health care systems, and sun safety training in workplaces.
  • Enforcing indoor tanning laws and looking at making them tougher, while teaching people – especially young people and their parents – about the dangers.
  • Doing more research to understand the link between ultraviolet (UV) rays and skin cancer, and how policies can best help people lower their risk for skin cancer.

“We all need to take an active role to prevent skin cancer by protecting our skin outdoors and avoiding intentional sun exposure and indoor tanning,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH.

Most skin cancer can be prevented

Most cases of melanoma – as many as 90% – are believed to be caused by exposure to UV rays. UV rays are also a major risk factor for basal and squamous cell skin cancers, the most common types. Exposure to UV rays comes from the sun and other sources like tanning beds and sunlamps. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that tanning beds and sunlamps carry a warning stating people under 18 should not use them.

According to the Surgeon General’s office, every year 1 of every 3 young white women ages 16 – 25 engage in indoor tanning. Lushniak said there is a flawed perception in the US that tanned skin looks healthy, and that needs to change.

“Tanned skin is damaged skin,” said Lushniak. “Our daughters need to know they are beautiful in their wedding gowns and prom dresses without that tan.”

Protecting yourself from harmful UV rays reduces not only the risk of skin cancer, but also sunburn, premature wrinkles, and eye damage. To stay sun- and UV-safe:

  • Cover up: When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30: Be sure to reapply at least every 2 hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
  • Seek shade: Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps: Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.