Results of a US survey presented at a conference on Monday suggest that as many as 27% of melanoma survivors still forego wearing sunscreen, while 2% continue to use tanning beds.

Going out in the sun without protection and using indoor tanning beds are both known to increase the risk of developing melanoma, the most serious and life-threatening form of skin cancer.

Anees Chagpar, associate professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Breast Center, and colleagues, analyzed responses from melanoma survivors who took part in the 2010 National Health Interview Survey.

She presented the findings at a poster session of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2013, in Washington, DC, on Monday.

In a press statement she remarks:

“We know that sun exposure and indoor tanning increase the risk of developing melanoma, so it’s incredibly disturbing that even after getting the disease once, some survivors continue these practices which would put them at greater risk of getting it again”.

In their analysis of self-reported data from 171 melanoma survivors, Chagpar and colleagues found that although most appeared to be taking precautions to minimize the risk of getting melanoma again, there were surprising numbers who were not. For example, they found that:

  • 27.3% of melanoma survivors said they never wear sunscreen when outside on a sunny day for over an hour,
  • 15.4% said they rarely or never stay in the shade, and
  • 2.1% said they had used an indoor tanning bed within the previous 12 months.

Chagpar says these findings show there is “a clear need for more effective interventions to reduce sun exposure and indoor tanning among melanoma survivors”.

Susan Mayne, co-author of the study and professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and Yale Cancer Center, says the fact some melanoma survivors continue to risk getting the disease again may suggest a possible addiction to tanning, something they are now researching further.

In 2012, researchers in the US reported a study where they found sun damage causes melanoma-driving genetic changes. They found 6 genes with driving mutations in melanoma, three having damage inflicted by UV light which causes recurrent ‘hotspot’ mutations.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD