Skin cancer was recently named a major public health problem, leading to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer is aimed at all partners involved in prevention to address this public health problem. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action includes five strategic goals to support the prevention of skin cancer.
Skin cancer as a Major Public Health Problem
Skin cancer is currently the most diagnosed cancer in the United States, with most cases being preventable. Nearly 5 million people are treated for all types of skin cancer each year with an approximate annual cost of $8.1 billion.
Increase Opportunities for Sun Protection in Outdoor Settings
Ideal sun protection includes wearing tightly woven protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, seeking shade whenever possible, applying sunscreen, and avoiding the sun during peak periods, such as the midday. However, many people lack understanding about the risks associated with sun exposure and social norms regard tan skin as attractive and healthy. These social norms create barriers to reduce exposure to UV radiation and require increased education about risks and the social factors that promote unhealthy tanning.
Provide Individuals with the Information They Need to Make Informed, Healthy Choices about Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation Exposure and Promote Policies that Advance the National Goal of Preventing Skin Cancer
Only a few states have passed legislation that supports skin cancer prevention awareness and sun-safety education programs. Arizona and New York have passed legislation that mandates skin cancer prevention instruction in public schools’ health education curriculum. Meanwhile, Kentucky has passed legislation that encourages skin cancer education. New York also requires sun-safety education for all its state employees who spend more than 5 hours a week outdoors.
Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning
Some states have regulations that place restrictions on indoor tanning. However, variations exist across the country regarding the strength and enforcement of these restrictions. California’s law that took effect in 2012 prohibits indoor tanning to anyone younger than 18 years of age, the strictest youth access law in the country. In the years since, several states have followed California’s lead and passed prohibitions on indoor tanning for minors. Currently, at least 44 states and Washington D.C., have some kind of law or regulation in place related to indoor tanning to reduce the risk of harm caused by indoor tanning.
Strengthen Research, Surveillance, Monitoring, and Evaluation Related to Skin Cancer Prevention
Social and behavioral research can help the partners in prevention better understand why there continues to be high rates of sunburn and high rates of indoor tanning. Results of such research can help create more effective message framing and effective policies that promote behavior change. Better data is needed to measure the effectiveness of prevention efforts in order to modify messages that are not effective. Lastly, more effective surveillance systems are needed to capture more skin cancer cases.
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action exposes the many areas of promotion that are lacking in effective messaging. As health communicators, we can take the Surgeon General’s call to action and use it to promote the need for better skin cancer prevention messages.
For your reference, the goals and strategies and the Surgeon General’s Call to Action can be found here.