Melanoma survivors may still be tanning, and even burning

Liz Meszaros, MDLinx | April 19, 2017

Melanoma survivors are more likely to limit their sun exposure compared to those who have never had melanoma, but researchers have found that some still actively tan and even get sunburned, according to study results published on March 2 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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Sun exposure in long-term melanoma survivors

Although many limit sun exposure, some are still tanning and even getting sunburns.

For the past 30 years, the incidence of melanoma has risen, and it is now the sixth most common cancer in the United States. In 2016, an estimated 76,380 cases of melanoma were diagnosed, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.

“At a time when rates of many cancer types are declining, the rising incidence of melanoma is worrisome,” said lead author Rachel Isaksson Vogel, PhD, assistant professor, department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. “People who have survived melanoma are at high risk of another diagnosis, so reducing exposure to the sun is really crucial.”

For their study, Dr. Vogel and colleagues included 724 patients who were long-term melanoma survivors, and 660 control subjects, all aged 25 to 59 years. All survivors had received a diagnosis of invasive cutaneous melanoma between July 2004 and December 2007.

Subjects were asked to report the amount of time they spent outdoors in the summers, sun protection methods they used, tanning booth/bed use, and whether they had suffered any red or painful sunburns in the past year.

These researchers found that melanoma survivors were more likely to engage in optimal sun protection behaviors compared to control subjects. Only 34.3% of survivors spent over 1 hour outside on summer weekdays, compared with 44.4% of controls; only 19.5% had been sunburned in the previous year, compared with 3.65%, respectively; and only 1.7 had used a tanning booth/bed in the previous year, compared with 6.8%. Finally, more melanoma survivors reported often or always using sunscreen, compared with only 384% of controls.

In addition, however, almost 20% of melanoma survivors reported being sunburned in the previous year, and on weekends, their sun exposure was approximately the same as that of controls. Among survivors, 74.8% had spent over 2 hours outside on the weekends, compared with 79.7% of controls.

Dr. Vogel explained that most of these subjects had been diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma, which carries a 5-year survival rate of 98%, and is often easily treated.

“Because an early-stage melanoma diagnosis and treatment was likely a fairly minor experience for most survivors, they might not understand how serious an illness this is,” noted Dr. Vogel. “Survivors of melanoma have a nearly 9-fold risk of developing melanoma again, and they can reduce that risk if they make sun protection a priority.”

Dr. Vogel added that a possible limitation of the study is that not all participants with second primary melanomas had available data. Another limitation is the possibility that subjects may have over-reported their sun protection behaviors.

This study was funded by a grant from the Masonic Cancer Center of the University of Minnesota’s Internal Grants Program, as well as a grant from the National Cancer Institute. Vogel declares no conflicts of interest.

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